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by Nathaniel Hawthorne 



by John Stuart Mill 


of William Shakespeare 

THE OPEN BOAT by Stephen Crane 
Beethoven: letters to hb 
“immortal beloved” 

Pope Urban H calls forth the 


classics Appreciation society 


THE SCARLET LETTER by Nathamel Hawthorne 1 

THE OPEN BOAT by Stephen Crane 137 


Ludwig van Beethoven: LETTERS TO HIS “IMMORTAL 



THE SONNETS of William Shakespeare 449 


Each Home Course Appreciation precedes its work. 


Ctmics Appreciation Society • A Division of GroUer Incorporated. 

Printed in U.SA 





Nathaniel Hawthorne 




T he scarlet letter” is the story of Hester Prynne. It is also 
a story of the effect of evil, the unpardonable sin and the tor- 
ture of a guilty conscience. Hester Prynne, the Massachusetts 
woman taken in adultery, was sentenced by the stem magistrates of 
the New England colony to stand for three hours on the platform of 
the pillory, and then and thereafter, for the remainder of her life, to 
wear on her bodice the mark of her shame — ^the scarlet letter A. 

Seventeenth-century Massachusetts was a Puritan theocracy, and 
transgressions against the law of God were considered crimes against 
the state. The law decreed that adultery was punMiable by death, but 
in Hester’s case there were extenuating circumstances and the judges 
did not impose the extreme penalty. Thus, after she had performed 
her public penance, Hester and her daughter Pearl, the child of her 
sinning, began their strange existence as outcasts of society. 

The Scarlet Letter has been a favorite American novel since it first 
appeared in 1850, and Hawthorne’s style, which blends stark rim- 
plicity with rich poetic imagery, ^ves the narrative a haunting qual- 
ity. We remember both the mood and the characters long after we 
have finished reading the book, and for many readers Boston will al- 
ways be the Puritan Boston of The Scarlet LeUer^ 


The Scarlet Letter is a most comiaressed novel.- In a rdadvely few 
pages Hawthorne fused together four different lands of novels. First 
of all, the book is an historical novel. Hawthorne had thm'ou^y ab- 

sorbed the history of Massachusetts and he painted a vivid picture of 
a past age. It is also a poignant love story, all the more moving be- 
cause of the sensitive restraint of its telling. Then it is a tfinH of de- 
tective story, as Roger Chillingworth sets out to discover the identity 
of the man involved with Hester. And finally it is a profound study of 
the human heart, and might be termed the first mature psychological 
novel written in the United States. 

The chief character of the “fourth novel” is the Reverend Arthur 
Dimmesdale, twisted by his inner confliet and tormented by thq. re- 
lentless Roger Chillingworth, a man who would play God. In the end 
the minister is driven almost to madness, as much by his conscience 
as by his enemy. 


'T'HE FOUNDERS of the Massachusetts colony left their homes in 
^ England and sailed to the bleak shores of the New World for rea- 
sons of conscience. Their vision of a New Jerusalem was a common- 
wealth of true believers. Religion was the motivating force in their 
lives, an everyday — ^not merely a Sabbath — ^preoccupation. There 
was no room in the theocratic colony for either latitudinarians or dis- 
senters. Puritan beliefs were rigid, and the wilderness in which the 
colonists settled did not soften them. The Puritans, who had to be 
strong to survive, were harsh as well. 

Their God was the God of the Old Testament — ^the wrathful Je- 
hovah; and the civil goverrunent was an arm of His law. Children 
learned their ABC’s from the New England primer with its stern and 
higb-mmded couplets: 

A — In Adam's Fall 
We Sinned all. 

F—The Idle Fool 

Is whipped at School. 

J — Job feels the Rod 
Yet blesses God. 

TTie Puritans were austere, yet like all men of intense faith, their feel- 
ings were deejC Their writings, from John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Prop-ess 
—a favorite of Hawdrome— and John Milton’s soaring Paradise Lost 

to the sermons of the Mathers, the hellfire couplets of Michael Wig> 
^eswordt and the soul-searching diaries the period, were passionate 
in expression. 

The Puritans felt strongly about their God, and they detested not 
only sin but sinners. They saw life as a drama of salvation. God de- 
termined who should be saved, but even those He elected could fall 
into Satan’s snares. Man’s task was hard because, as the child of 
Adam, he was prone to sin. The struggjle against the devil could end 
in salvation or in eternal damnation. 

Arthur Dimmesdale saves his soul by publicly confessing his guilt 
to the whole village. Only by confession does he atone for his even 
worse sin, the sin of pride. It was pride that kept him from saying 
that he was as guilty as Hester. Roger Chillingworth persists in his 
secrecy and makes the pursuit of revenge the object of his life. “A de- 
formed old figure, with a face that haunted men’s memories longer 
than they liked,” his very physical appearance was changed by his sin. 
He becomes an embodiment of evil. In assuming the role of God, 
seeing into men’s hearts without God’s great compassion for the 
weakness of mankind, Qiillingworth turns himself into a tool of 
Satan. He becomes a “striking evidence of man’s faculty of trans- 
forming himself into a devil, if he will only, for a reasonable space of 
time, undertake a devil’s office.” When Arthur Dimmesdale died, 
Chillingworth no longer had a purpose in life. He had lost his quarry 
and wiffiin the year he too was dead. 


Nathaniel Hawthorne was himself a descendant of the Puritans. 
An avid student of New En^and history, he spent hours in Salem’s 
Essex Institute studying the grim-faced portraits of the first New 
Engjlanders. He was fascinated by the problems of sin and salvation, 
and by the questions of right and wrong that had preoccupied his an- 
cestors. One of his forebears had been a judge at the witchcraft trials 
that blighted seventeenth-century Salem. A woman whom Judge 
Hathome (Nathaniel added the W) had condemned, called down a 
curse upon him and his descendants, a fact that contributed to the 
reality Puritan New Engjlanfi ^or the old Judge’s gifted relative. 

Apart &om the four characters of his imagination (Hester, Peail, 
Dimmesdale and Chillingworth), Hawthorne peopled The Samlet 
Letter with historical personages. Govonors Bellingham and Win* 

• » 

this dreaiy woman, gliding silently through the town, with 
never any companion but one only chSd.^* 

came good farmers, they had to compete with other good farmers, and 
ended by becoming nothing else. He came to think of the experiment 
as an attempt to hurry the millennium, which was to be his objection, 
later cm, to abolition. All such reformers, he felt, sought to usurp the 
power of God. He sued to retrieve half of his investment, and got the 
Old Manse to live in rent-free. His experimices at Brook Farm formed 
the background of his novel The Blithedale Romance (1852), in 
which he was rather hard on some of his former Transcendental a$r 
sociates. ‘ *' ' 

FoUowing his marriage to Sophia Peabody in 1842, Hawthorn^ 
spent three very happy years living and working at the Old Manse iin 
Concord. Unfortunately writing did not give him an adequate income! 
to support a family, and in 1845, the Democrats having been re- \ 
turned to power, Hawthorne was appointed surveyor of the Salem 
Custom House. Political appointments are not the most stable form 
of employment and he again found himself out of work when the 
Whigs went back to the White House in 1849. In the next year he 
wrote The Scarlet Letter. The book took him only eight months to 
set down, but he had been preparing himself for the task for most of 
his life. The Scarlet Letter was a success and Hawthorne became fa- 


In 1850 Hawthorne moved to Lenox, Massachusetts, where he be- 
came acquainted with Herman Melville, then writing Moby Dick. The 
two men appreciated each other’s talent and they became friends. It 
was while at Lenox that Hawthorne wrote his favorite novel. The 
House of the Seven Gables (1851), a study of the decay of a once 
prominent Salem family. In 1852 he mov^ back to Concord. His 
two volumes of stories for children, A Wonder-Book and Tanglewood 
Tales, appeared in 1852 and 1853. 

When ^ friend Franklin Pierce was nominated by the Democrats 
for the Presidency in 1852, Hawthorne suggested that he write a cam- 
paign biography. The biography’s only distinction is that it is better 
written than most election-year lives of candidates. When Pierce was 
elected, he rewarded Hawthorne with an appointment as United States 
consul at Liverpool. 

Hawfoome spent the next seven years abroad, chiefly in Engjland, 
although he did live in Italy for a year and a half, and Italy provided 
foe background for The Marbk Fam (1860). Tire Hawfoomes re- 

turned to the United States in 1860. In 1863 he published Our Old 
Home, a book of reflections — some satirical— on En§^ life. His 
health began to fail and he could not seem to finish flje three novds 
he had begun. Hiese unfinished pieces, Dr. Grimshawe’s Secret, The 
DolUver Romance and The Ancestrai Footstep, were published after 
his death. While on a trip to New Hampshire with Franklin Pierce in 
1864, Hawthorne died in his sleep. 


T N 1837 HAWTHORNE published a short story “Endicott and the Red 
^ Cross,” which contained a vignette of a beautiful woman con- 
demned by the old colony law to wear the letter A as the bad^ of 
adultery. “Sporting with her infamy,” Hawthorne wrote, “the lost and 
desperate creature had embroidered the fatal token in scarld cloth, 
with golden thread and the nicest art of needlework; so that the capir 
tal A might have been thought to mean Admirable, or anything rather 
than Adulteress.” His sister-in-law Elizabeth Peabody wrote that flie 
idea of the scarlet A had left a profound impression on him. Some ten 
years later the idea occurs again in his notebook. 

Hawthorne’s imagination turned the red letter into more than an 
obsolete colonial punishment. It became a symbol of the aspect of 
Puritanism that most repelled, yet most fascinated him. In the novel 
the A expresses far more than Hester’s ostracism from the colnmuni^. 
In describing the reactions of the characters to the scarlet letter and 
its wearer, Hawthorne described a whole society. 

Fragmentary ideas, which Hawthorne later wove together in the 
novel, appear throug|hout his notebooks. We read of the influence of 
“a peculiar mind, in close communication with another, to drive die 
latter to insanity,” and are reminded of Chillingworth and Dimmes- 
dale. Entries on the evil effects of revenge, which result in making a 
devil out of the vengeful man, foretell Chilfingworth. The name Pearl, 
with its suggestion of clouded lig^t, is set down for later use. 

The plot of the book has been traced to an account of a ftunous 
trial hdd in England — ^an historical document we know that Haw- 
thorne read. The novel is enridted by his th(m)u^ knowledge d 
colcmial history, but above all by his Porhan backgroimd. like many 
of his contemporaries, Hawthorne had broken widi the ftuth of h^ 
ancestors but he had grown up in an envirmunent where many of the 
attitudes of Puritanism persisted, and S^n, udiidi had witneued dm 
worst witchorajte trials, was steeped in the traditions of the old faidi. 

While Hawthorne attacked his forebears for their intolerance and 
cruel^, and above all for their self-ri^teousness, he also recognized 
their virtues of honesty and integrity. They were people of a strange 
but vivid conscience and in many ways The Scarlet Letter is a novel 
of this conscience. 


I N PURITAN NEW ENGLAND Hester’s sin was a crime against God and 
state. The ma^strates who ordered her to wear the A believed thej^ 
were protecting the very foundations of their society. Transgression;^, 
against the law of God had to be punished, for sinners had to be made' 
examples of to keep members of the community in the path of right- 
eousness. In his treatment of sin Hawthorne followed theological doc- 
trine. Hester and Dimmesdale committed a sin of passion which, rep- 
rehensible though it is, is not the worst of offenses. They had not, as 
Hawthorne noted, “violated, in cold blood, the sanctity of the human 
heart.” Redemption is possible for them as it is not for Chillingworth, 
whose sin is vengeful pride, by which sin the angels fell. 

When Hester stitched the badge of her ignominy, she used her tal- 
ent for needlework to fashion a letter A that was gloriously embroi- 
dered in threads of gold. She turned the shameful badge into an object 
of beauty and the source of her redemption. To some of the village 
elders and gossiping women, Hester’s golden threads were a mockery. 
To Arthur Dimmesdale, whose sin was far greater than Hester’s, they 
were an agonizing reproach constantly reminding him of his guilt. He 
was a minister of God, a leader of the community, looked up to by 
his congregation, respected by his fellow ministers and by the ma^s- 
trates. To many his voice was the voice of an angel reminding them of 
their duty, and his saintly life was an example to all. For Arthur 
Dimmesdale to have confessed his guilt would have been to demolish 
him. But it was only by confessing his guilt that he found peace. 

Ibat Hawthorne managed to achieve his effects in a book that 
never moves beyond the confines of a small colonial settlement — a 
book the mysteries of which are revealed almost at once — ^is a tribute 
to bis genius. His art lies in his use of symbolism and striking imager y, 
and his novel allows of multiide interpretations. 


Uawthcmne used color not merely to desmibe things but to in- 
vest them with moral value, light lepresmits truth; darkness evil 

she . . , pressed his head against her bosom; litde cai^ 
though his cheek rested oo the scarlet lettor.^ 

or alienation from good. The names he gave the characters illustrate 
this. Hie Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale is a complex diaracter, out- 
wardly strong and forceful, inwardly tom by the contradiction of his 
hi^ ideals and his fall from grace. He is neither all good nor all bad, 
neither black nor white. So Hawthorne called him Dimmesdale. He 
is a gray character, almost a twilight figure. He walks in “shadowy 
paths.” Hie night he vainly tries to expiate his sin by standing on the 
pillory scaffold, he does so when “an unvaried pall of cloud muff[e|| 
the whole expanse of sky from zenith to horizon.” Light comes tb 
Arthur Dimmesdale oitiy when he ascends the scaffold before the en^'. 
tire village. Then “the sun shone down upon the clergyman, and gave ' 
a distinctness to his figure . . . and the minister stood, with a flush 
of triumph on his face, as one who . . . had won a victory.” 

The name Chillingworth is indicative of the man. He was once a 
worthy man, a scholar, “a man thoughtful for others, craving little 
for himself,” but even then his heart was “lonely and chill.” In the 
course of the novel, his heart becomes more stonelike as be pursues 
his fiendish, calculated scheme of torment. The child Pearl is the 
pearl of great price purchased by her parents’ fall. “Hester” is a vari- 
ant of the biblical “Esther,” the name of the courageous woman who 
defended her people against their enemies. 

The central symbol is the scarlet letter, its warm color the repre- 
sentation of Hester’s emotional depths, and of the “oriental” side of 
her nature which the Puritan doctrine sought to suppress. The letter 
assumes many different meanings throughout the book. At once the 
badge of her shame, it was also Hester’s badge of defiance, a thing 
“enclosing her in a sphere by herself,” and surrounding her with “a 
sort of magic circle.” To Pearl it is so much a part of her mother’s 
dress that she has a tantrum when she sees it teside the woodland 


^RAVE AS WAS Arthur Dimmesdale’s sin, Roger Chillingworth’s was 
^ far worse. Chillingworth is the one completely evil character in 
the book. Dimmesdale accuses him of cold-bloodedly violating the 
sanctity of the human heart. In probing into the minister’s heart, in 
seeking ruthlessly to e:qx>se his secret, Chillingworth seeks to destroy 
the man. He is motivated scdely by enmity and revenge. 

In his notebooks Hawtiiome wrote that the unpardonable sin 
be a want of revermce for the human heart, a desire to espose it dini- 

cally, without love or the desire to make it better. GuUiogworth is 
unable to feel love or compassion. Hawthorne refers to him as a leedi 
— the old term for a physician. He is an emotional parasite feeding on 
the heart’s blood of others. “Man,” wrote Hawdiome, “must not cBs- 
claim his brotherhood, even with the guiltiest, since, though his hand 
be clear, his heart has surely been polluted by the flitting phantoms 
of iniquity.” In the pursuit of his evil end, Chillingworth loses his 

Hawthorne once compared the human heart to a cavern which has 
sunshine and flowers at the entrance, but darkness within. One enters 
and there appear “monsters ... like Hell itself.” But as one pene> 
trates the depths, a light appears once more, illuminating a re^on 
which seems like “the flowers and sunny beau^ of the entrance, but 
all perfect. These are the depths of the heart, or of human nature, 
bright and peaceful; the gloom and terror may lie deep, but deeper 
still is the eternal beauty.” 

The Prison Door 

A THRONG OF BEARDED MEN, in sad-colored garments, and gray, 
steeple-crowned hats, intermixed with women, some wearing 
hoods and others bareheaded, was assembled in front of a wooden 
edifice, the door of which was heavily timbered with oak, and studded 
with iron spikes. 

The founders of a new colony, whatever Utopia of human virtue 
and happiness they mig|ht originally project, have invariably recog- 
nized it among their earliest practical necessities to allot a portion 
of the virgin soil as a cemetery, and another portion as the site of a 
prison. In accordance with this rule, it may safely be assumed that 
the forefathers of Boston had built the first prison house somewhere 
in the vicinity of Comhill, almost as seasonably as they marked out 
the first burial ground on Isaac Johnson’s lot, and round about his 
grave, which subsequently became the nucleus of all the congregated 
sepulchers in the old churchyard of King’s Chapel. Certain it is that, 
some fifteen or twenty years after the settlement of the town, the 
wooden jail was already marked with weatberstains and other indica- 
tions of age, which gave a yet darker aspect to its beetle-browed and 
gloomy front. The rust on the ponderous ironwork of its oaken door 
looked more antique than any^g else in the New World. Like all 
that pertains to crime, it seemed neva to have known a youthM 
era. More this u^y e^ce, and between it and the whed tradt of 
the street, was a grassplot, much overgrown with burdock, p^iweed, 
fq>ple pern, and such unsi^tly vegetation, which evid^itfy finiad 
something congenial in the soil that had so early borne die bLadt 
flower of civilized sode^, a prison. But, on one side of the portal, 

Nathaniel Hawthorne 
and rooted almost at the threshold, was a wild rosebush covered, in 
this month of June, with its delicate gems, which might be imaged 
to offer their fragrance and fragile beauty to the prisoner as he went 
in, and to the condemned criminal as he came forth to his domn, 
in token that the deep heart of Nature codSd pity and be kind to him. 

This rosebush, by a strange chance, has been kept alive in history; 
but whether it had merely survived out of the stem old wilderness, 
so long after the fall of the gigantic pines and oaks that originally 
overshadowed it — or whether, as there is fair authority for believing^ 
it had spnmg up under the footsteps of the sainted Aime Hutchinson,'.;, 
as she entered the prison door — ^we shall not take upon us to de- ' 
termine. Finding it so directly on the threshold of our narrative, 
which is now about to issue from that inauspicious portal, we could 
hardly do otherwise than pluck one of its flowers, and present it to 
the reader. It may serve, let us hope, to symbolize some sweet moral 
blossom, that may be found along the track, or relieve the darkening 
close of a tale of human frailty and sorrow. 


The Market Place 

T he grassplot before the jail, in Prison Lane, on a certain 
summer morning, not less than two centuries ago, was occupied 
by a pretty large number of the inhabitants of Boston, all with Aeir 
eyes intently fastened on the iron-clamped oaken door. Amongst any 
other population, or at a later period in the history of New England, 
the grim rigidity that petrified the bearded physiognomies of these 
good people would have augured some awful business in hand. It 
could have betokened nothing short of the antidpated execution of 
some noted culprit, on whom the sentence of a legal tribunal had 
but confirmed the verdict of public sentiment. But, in that early 
severi^ of the Puritan character, an inference of this kind could not 
so indubitably be drawn. It mi^t be that a sluggish bond servant, or 
an undutiful child, whom his parents had given over to the civil au- 
thority, was to be corrected at the whipping post. It nug^t be, that 
an Antinomian, a Quaker, or other heterodox rdi^onist was to be 
sdbu^ed out of the town, or an idle and vagrant Indian, whom the 
wldte man’s firewater had made riotous about the streets, was to be 
with stripes into the shadow of the forest It mi^ be, too, 

' '4 

The Scarlet Letter 

that a witdi, like old Mistress Hibbins, the bitter-tempered widow 
of the magistrate, was to die upon the gallows. In either case, thoe 
was very much the same solemnity of demeanor on the part of the 
spectators; as befitted a people amongst whom religion and law 
were almost identical, and in whose character both were so thoroughly 
interfused, that the mildest and the severest acts of public discifdine 
were alike made venerable and awful. Meager, indeed, and cold was 
the sympathy that a transgressor mi^t look for from such bystand- 
ers, at the scaffold. On the other hand, a penalty, which, in otir 
days, would infer a degree of mocking infamy and ridicule, might 
then be invested with almost as stem a dignity as the punishment of 
death itself. 

It was a circumstance to be noted, on the summer morning when 
our story begins its course, that the women, of whom there were 
several in the crowd, appeared to take a peculiar interest in whatever 
penal infliction might be expected to ensue. . . . 

“Goodwives,” said a hard-featured dame of fifty, “I’ll tell ye a 
piece of my mind. It would be greatly for the public behoof, if we 
women, being of mature age and church members in good repute, 
should have the handling of such malefactresses as this Hester Prynne. 
What think ye, gossips? If the hussy stood up for judgment before 
us five, that are now here in a knot together, would she come with 
such a sentence as the worshipful magistrates have awarded? Marry, 
I trow not!” 

“People say,” said another, “that the Reverend Master Dimmes- 
dale, her godly pastor, takes it very grievously to heart that sudi a 
scandal should have come upon his congregation.” 

“The magistrates are God-fearing gentlemen, but merciM over- 
much — ^that is a truth,” added a third autumnal matron. “At the vny 
least, they should have put the brand of a hot iron on Hester Prynne’s 
forehead. Madam Hester would have winced at that, I warrant me. 
But she — die haugiity baggage — litde will she care what they put 
upon the bodice of her gown! Why, look you, she may cover it widi 
a brooch, or such like heathenish adommmit, and so walk the streets 
as brave sis ever!” 

“Ah, but,” interposed, more sofdy, a young wife holdiQg a chiM 
by die hand, “let her cover the mark as die will, the pang of it will 
be always hi her heart” 

do we talk of marks and brands, whethm* on die bodhie of 
Ittr gown, or die fiedi of her fordiead?” cried anodur fuoale; the 


Nathaniel Hawthorne 
ugliest as well as the most i^ess of these self-coostituted judges. 
“This woman has brought shame upon us all, and ought to die. Is 
there not law for it? Truly, there is, both in the Scripture and the 
statute book. Then let the magistrates, who have made it of no 
effect, thank themselves if their own wives and daughters go astray!” 

“Mercy on us, goodwife,” exclaimed a man in the crowd, “is there 
no virtue in woman, save what springs from a wholesome fear of 
the gallows? That is the hardest word yetf’Hush, now, gossips! f«i(r 
the lock is turning in the prison door, and here comes Mistress 
Prynne herself.” 

The door of the jail being flung open from within, there appeared, 
in the first place, like a black shadow emerging into sunshine, the 
grim and grisly presence of the town beadle, with a sword by his side, 
and his staff of oflice in his hand. This personage prefigured and 
represented in his aspect the whole dismal severity of the Puritanic 
code of law, which it was his business to administer in its final and 
closest application to the offender. Stretching forth the official staff 
in his left hand, he laid his right upon the shoulder of a young woman, 
whom he thus drew forward; until, on the threshold of the prison 
door, she repeUed him, by an action marked with natural dignity 
and force of character, and stepped into the open air, as if by her 
own free will. She bore in her arms a child, a baby of some three 
months old, who winked and turned aside its little face from the 
too vivid light of day; because its existence, heretofore, had brought 
it acquainted only with the gray twilight of a dungeon, or other dark- 
some apartment of the prison. 

When the young woman — ^the mother of this child — stood fuUy 
revealed before the crowd, it seemed to be her first impidse to clasp 
the infant closely to her bosom; not so much by an impulse of 
motherly affection, as that she might thereby conceal a certain token, 
which was wrought or fastened into her dress. In a moment, however, 
wisely jud^g that one token of her shame would but poorly serve 
to hide another, she took the baby on her arm and, with a burning 
blush and yet a haughty smile, and a glance that would not be 
abashed, looked around at her townspeople and nei^bors. On the 
breast of her gown, in fine red cloth, surrounded with an elaborate 
embroidery and fantastic flourishes of gold thread, appeared the 
letter A. It was so artistically done, and wi& so much fertility and 
gprg^us luxuriance of fancy, that it had all the effect of a last and 
&ting decoraticm to the apparel which she wore; and which was of 


The Scarlet Letter 

a splendor in accordance with die taste of the age, but greatly beyond 
what was allowed by the sumptuary regulations of the colony. 

The young woman was tall, with a figure of perfect elegance on a 
large scale. She had dark and abundant hair, so gflossy that it threw 
off the sunshine with a gleam, and a face which, besides being beauti- 
ful from regularity of feature and richness of complexion, had the 
impressiveness belon^g to a marked brow and deep black eyes. 
She was ladylike, too, after the manner of the feminine gentility of 
those days; characterized by a certain state and di^ty, rather than 
by the delicate, evanescent and indescribable grace, which is now 
recognized as its indication. And never had Hester Prynne appeared 
more ladylike, in the antique interpretation of the term, than as she 
issued from the prison. Those who had before known her, and had 
expected to behold her dimmed and obscured by a disastrous cloud, 
were astonished, and even startled, to perceive how her beauty shone 
out and made a halo of the misfortune and ignominy in which she was 
enveloped. It may be true that, to a sensitive observer, there was 
something exquisitely painful in it. Her attire, which, indeed, she had 
wrought for the occasion in prison, and had modeled much after her 
own fancy, seemed to express the attitude of her spirit, the desperate 
recklessness of her mood, by its wild and picturesque peculiarity. 
But the point which drew all eyes, and, as it were, transfigured the 
wearer — so that both men and women, who had been familiarly 
acquainted with Hester Prynne, were now impressed as if they 
beheld her for the first time — ^was that Scarlet Letter, so fan- 
tastically embroidered and illuminated upon her bosom. It had the 
effect of a spell, taking her out of the ordinary relations with hu- 
manity, and enclosing her in a sphere by herself. 

“She hath good sl^ at her needle, t^t’s certain,” remarked one 
of her female spectators; “but did ever a woman, before this brazm 
huzzy, contrive such a way of showing it! Why, gossips, what is it 
but to laugh in the faces of our godly ma^trates, and make a pride 
out of what they, worthy gentlemen, meant for a punishment?” 

“It were well,” muttered the most iron-visaged of the dd dames, 
“if we stripped Madam Hester’s rich gown off h^ dainty riioulders; 
and as for the red letter, which she hath stitched so curiously, TH be- 
stow a rag of mine own riieumatic flannel, to make a fitter 

“Oh, peace, neigbbm, peace!” whispered their youngest cmn- 
panion; “do not let her tear you! Not a stitch in that entinddeted 
letter, but she has felt in her heart.” 


Nathaniel Hawthorne 

The grim beadle now made a gesture with his staff. 

“Make way, good people, make way, in the King’s name!’’ cried 
he. “Open a passage; and, I promise ye. Mistress Prynne shall be 
set where man, woman and child may have a fair sight of her brave 
apparel, from this time till an hour past meridian. A blessing on the 
ri^teous Colony of the Massachusetts, where iniqui^ is dragged 
out into the sunshine! Come along. Madam Hester, and show your 
scarlet letter in the market place!” ' ’* .ij 

A lane was forthwith opened throu^ the crowd of spectators 
Preceded by the beadle, and attended by an irregular procession 
stem-browed men and unkindly visaged women, Hester Prynne sei 
forth toward the place appointed for her punishment. It was no great 
distance, in those days, from the prison door to the market place. 
Measured by the prisoner’s experience, however, it might be reckoned 
a journey of some length; for, haughty as her demeanor was, she 
perchance underwent an agony from every foofrtep of those that 
thronged to see her, as if her heart had been flung into the street for 
them all to spurn and trample upon. Hester Prynne passed through 
this portion of her ordeal, and came to a sort of scaffold, at the 
western extremity of the market place. . , « 

Knowing well her part, she ascended a flight of wooden steps, and 
was thus displayed to the surrounding multitude, at about the height 
of a man’s shoulders above the street. 

. . . The crowd was somber and grave. The unhappy culprit sus- 
tained herself as best a woman might, under the heavy weight of a 
thousand unrelenting eyes, all fastened upon her, and concentrated 
at her bosom. It was almost intolerable to be borne. Of an impulsive 
and passionate nature, she had fortified herself to encounter the stings 
and venomous stabs of public contumely, wreaking itself in every 
variety of insult; but there was a quality so much more terrible in 
the solonn mood of the popular mind, that she longed rather to 
b^ld all those rigid countenances contorted with scornful merri- 
ment, and herself the object. Had a roar of laughter burst from the 
muhitude— each man, each woman, each little shriU-voiced diild, 
ccmtributing their individual parts — ^Hester Prynne might have r^aid 
them all with a bitter and disdainful smile. But, undo: the leaden 
infliction which it was her doom to endure, she felt, at mommits, as 
if she must needs shriek out with the full power of her lui^, and 
catt herself fr<»n the scafibld down upon the ground, or else go mad 
at once. 


The Scarlet Letter 

Yet there were intervals when the whole scrae, in which she was- 
the most conspicuous object, seemed to vanish from her eyes, or, at 
least, glimmered indistinctly before them, like a mass of imperfectiy 
shaped and spectral images. Her mind, and especially her mranory, 
was pretematurally active, and kept bringuig up other scenes than 
this roughly hewn street of a little town on tiie edge of the Western 
wilderness; other faces than were lowering upon her from beneath 
the brims of those steeple-crowned hats. Reminiscences the most 
trifling and immaterial, passages of infancy and school days, sports, 
childish quarrels and the little domestic traits of her maiden years, 
came swarming back upon her, intermingled with recollections of 
whatever was gravest in her subsequent life; one picture precisely as 
vivid as another; as if all were of similar importance, or all ^ike 
a play. Possibly, it was an instinctive device of her spirit to relieve 
itself, by the exhibition of these phantasmagoric forms, from the 
cruel weight and hardness of the reality. 

Be that as it might, the scaffold of the pillory was a point of view 
that revealed to Hester Prynne the entire track along which she 
had been treading since her happy infancy. Standing on that miserable 
eminence, she saw again her native village, in Old England, and her 
paternal home; a decayed house of gray stone, with a poverty- 
stricken aspect, but retaining a half-obliterated shield of arms over 
the portal, in token of antique gentility. She saw her father’s face, 
with its bald brow, and reverend white beard that flowed over tte 
old-fashioned Elizabethan ruff; her mother’s too, with the look of 
heedful and anxious love which it always wore in her remembrance, 
and which, even since her death, had so often laid the impediment 
of a gentle remonstrance in her dau^ter’s pathway. She saw het 
own face glowing with girlish beauty, and illuminating all the in- 
terior of the dusky mirror in which she had been wcmt to gaze at it. 
There she beheld another countenance, of a man wdl stricken in 
years, a pale, thin, scholar-like visage, with eyes dim and blemed 
by tire lampli^t that had served them to pore over many ponderous 
books. Yet those same blemed optics had a strange, praetra^ig 
power, 'Mdien it was their owner’s purpose to read the human soiff; 
This figure of the study and the cloister, as Hester Prynne’s womaifly 
faimy failed not to recall, was slightly deformed, with the left ahcnd- 
der a trifle higjier tium ^ ri^t Next rose before' her, in mnnp^A 
picture gallmy, the intricate ai^ narrow tiioroi^ares, tiie tafl, 
houses, the huge cathedrals, and the public edi&res, an<^nt im 

Nathaniel Hawthorne 
and quaint in architecture, of a Continental dty; where a new life 
had awaited her, still in connection with the misshapen scholar; a 
new life, but feeding itself on timeworn materials, like a tuft of green 
moss on a crumbling wall. Lastly, in lieu of these shifting scenes, 
came back the rude market place of the Puritan settlement, with 
all the townspeople assembled and leveling their stem regards at 
Hester Prynne — ^yes, at herself — ^who stood on the scaffold of the 
pillory, an infant on her arm, and the letter A, in scarlet, fantastically 
embroidered with gold thread, upon her bosom! ^ 

Could it be true? She clutched the child so fiercely to her breasi 
that it sent forth a cry; she turned her eyes downward at the scarlet 
letter, and even touched it with her finger, to assure herself that the 
infant and the shame were real. Yes! — ^these were her realities — all 
else had vanished! 

The Recognition 

F rom this intense consciousness of being the object of severe 
and universal observation, the wearer of the scarlet letter was at 
length relieved, by discerning, on the outskirts of the crowd, a figure 
which irresistibly took possession of her thoughts. An Indian, in his 
native garb, was standing there; but the red men were not so in- 
frequent visitors of the English settlements, that one of them would 
have attracted any notice from Hester Piynne at such a time; much 
less would he have excluded all other objects and ideals from her 
mind . By the Indian’s side, and evidently sustaining a companion- 
sh^ with him, stood a white man, clad in a strange disarray of civi- 
lized and savage costume. 

He was small in stature, with a furrowed visage, which, as yet, 
could hardly be termed aged. There was a remarkable intelligence in 
his features, as of a person who had so cultivated his mental part that 
it could not fail to mold the physical to itself and become manifest by 
unmistakable tokens. Although, by a seemingly careless arrangement 
of bis heterogeneous garb, he bad endeavored to conceal or abate 
the peculiari^, it was sufficiently evident to Hester Prynne that one 
of this man’s shoulders rose higher than the other. Again, at the 
first instant of perceiving that thin visage, and the slight deformity 
of the figure, she pressed her infant to her bosom with so convulsive 


The Scarlet Letter 

a force that the poor babe uttered anoth^ cry of pain. But the mother 
did not seem to hear it. 

At his arrival in the market place, and some time before slm saw 
him, the stranger had bent his eyes on Hester Prynne. It was care- 
lessly, at first, like a man chiefly accustomed to look inward, and to 
whom external matters are of little value and import unless they 
bear relation to something within his mind. Very soon, however, Ms 
look became keen and penetrative. A writhing horror twisted itself 
across Ms features, like a snake gliding swiftly over them, and mak- 
ing one little pause, with all its wreathed intervolutions in open si^t 
His face darkened with some powerful emotion, which, nevertheless, 
he so instantaneously controlled by an effort of his will, that, save 
at a single moment, its expression might have passed for calnm^s. 
After a brief space, the convulsion grew almost imperceptible and 
finally subsided into the depths of his nature. When he found the 
eyes of Hester Prynne fastened on Ms own, and saw that she ap- 
peared to recognize him, he slowly and calmly raised Ms finger, made 
a gesture with it in the air, and laid it on Ms lips. 

Then, touching the shoulder of a townsman who stood next to 
him, he addressed him, in a formal and courteous manner. 

“I pray you, good Sir,” said he, “who is tMs woman? — and where- 
fore is she here set up to public shame?” 

“You must be a stranger in tMs re^on, friend,” answered the 
townsman, looking curiously at the questioner and his savage com- 
panion, “else you would surely have heard of Mistress Hester Prynne 
and her evil doings. She hath raised a great scandal, I prom^ you, 
in godly Master Dimmesdale’s church.” 

“You say truly,” replied the other. “I am a stranger and have bem 
a wanderer, sorely against my wiU. I have met with grievous mishsqis 
by sea and land, and have been long held in bonds among the heathea 
folk, to the southward; and am now brou^t Mther by this Indian 
to be redeemed out of my captivity. Will it please you, therefore, to 
tell me of Hester Prynne’s — ^have I her name ri^tly? — of this wo- 
man’s offenses, and what has brought her to yond/» scaffold?” 

“Truly, friend; and methinks it must gladden your heart, aftw 
your troubles and sojourn in the wQdemess,” said tte townsman, “to 
find yourself, at len^, in a land where iniquity is searched ou^ and 
punished in the sig^t of rulers and people, as here in our ^xUy New 
England. Yonder woman. Sir, you must know, was the wife ct a 
certain learned man, En^h by birth, but who had kmg dwdte in 


Nathaniel Hawthorne 
Ai&sterdam, whence, some good time agone, he was minded to cross 
over and cast in his lot with us of the Massachusetts. To this purpose, 
he sent his wife before him, remaining himself to look after unma 
necessary affairs. Marry, good Sir, in some two years, or less, that 
the woman has been a dweller here in Boston, no tidings have come 
of this learned gentleman. Master Prynne; and his young wife, look 
you, being left to her own misguidance — ” 

“Aha! — aha! — conceive you,” ‘stud the stranger with ^ bitter 
smile. “So learned a man as you speak of should have leani^ this 
too in his books. And who, by your favor. Sir, may be the fa^r of 
yonder babe — ^it is some three or four months old, I should judge — 
which Mistress Prynne is holding in her arms?” 

“Of a truth, friend, that matter remaineth a riddle; and the Daniel 
who shall expound it is yet a-wanting,” answered the townsman. 
“Madam Hester absolutely refuseth to speak, and the magistrates 
have laid their heads together in vain. Peradventure the guilty one 
stands looking on at this sad spectacle, unknown of man, and for- 
getting that God sees him.” 

“The learned man,” observed the stranger, with another smile, 
“should come himself, to look into the mystery.” 

“It behooves him well, if he be still in life,” responded the towns- 
man. “Now, good Sir, our Massachusetts magistracy, bethinking 
themselves that this woman is youthful and fair, and doubdess was 
strongly tempted to her fall — and that, moreover, as is most likely, 
her husband may be at the bottom of the sea — ^they have not been 
bold to put in force the extremity of our righteous law against her. 
The penal^ thereof is death. But in their great mercy and tenderness 
of heart, they have doomed Mistress Prynne to stand only a space of 
three hours on the platform of the pillory, and then and thereafter, 
for the remainder of her natural life, to wear a mark of shame upon 
her bosom.” 

“A wise sentence!” remarked the stranger, gravely bowing his 
head. “Thus she will be a living sermon against sin, until the ignomini- 
ous letter be engraved upon her tombstone. It irks me, nevertbdess, 
that the partner of her imquity should not, ^ least, stand on the 
scaffold by her side. But he will be knownI---he will to known!— he 
win be known!” 

He bowed courteously to the conununicadve townsman, and, 
whispering a few words to his Indian attendant, diey both made their 
way through fbe crowd. 


The Scarlet Letter 

While this passed, Hest^ Ptynne had been standing cm her ped- 
estal. still with a fixed gaze toward the stranger; so fixed a gaze, that, 
at moments of intense absorption, all other objects in the visible 
world seemed to vanish, leaving only him and her. Such an inter- 
view, perhaps, would have been more terrible than even to meet 
him as she now (Ud, with the hot, midday sun burning down upon 
her face, and lighting up its shame; with die scarlet token of infamy 
on her breast; with the sin-bom infant in her arms; with a whole 
people, drawn forth, as to a festival, staring at the features that should 
have been seen only in the qmet gleam of the fireside, in the happy 
shadow of a home, or beneath a matronly veil, at church. Drea^id 
as it was, she was conscious of a shelter in the presence of these thou- 
sand witnesses. It was better to stand thus, with so many betwixt 
him and her, than to greet him, face to face, they two alone. She fied 
for refuge, as it were, to the public exposure, and dreaded the mo- 
ment when its protection should be withdrawn from her. Involved in 
these thoughts, she scarcely heard a voice behind her, until it had 
repeated her name more than once, in a loud and sol^nn tone, 
audible to the whole multitude. 

“Hearken unto me, Hester Prynne!” said the voice. 

Directly over the platform on which Hester Prynne stood was a 
kind of balcony, or open gallery, appended to the meeting house. . . . 
Here, to witness the scene which we are describing, sat Governor 
Bellingham himself, with four sergeants about his chair, bearing 
halberds, as a guard of honor. He wore a dark feather in his hat, 
a border of embroidery on his cloak, and a black velvet tunic be- 
neath; a gentleman advanced in years, with a hard experience writtra 
in his wrinkles. He was not ill-fitted to be the head and representative 
of a community, which owed its origin and progress, and its present 
state of development, not to the impulses of youth, but to the stem 
and tempered energies of manhood, and the somber sagacity oi age; 
accomplishing so much, precisely because it imagined and hoped »> 
little. The other eminmt characters, by whom the chief ruler was 
surrounded, were distinguished by a <figni^ of mien, b^mging to 
a period when the fcnms of authority were felt to possess the sacred- 
ness of Divine institutions. They were, doubtless, good men, just, 
and sage. But, out of the whole human family, it would not ^ve 
been easy to sdect the same number of wise and virtuous poscms, 
udio should be less capable of sitting in judgment on an en^ wo- 
man’s heart, and disentangling its me^ of ^)od and evil, than ^ 


Nathaniel Hawthorne 
sagps of rigid aspect toward whom Hester Prynne now turned her 
face. She seemed conscious, indeed, that whatever sympathy she 
might expect lay in the larger and warmer heart of the multitude; 
for, as she lifted her eyes toward the balcony, the unhappy woman 
grew pale and trembled. 

The voice which had called her attention was that of the reverend 
and famous John Wilson, the eldest clergyman of Boston, a great 
scholar, like most of his contempoirsfries in the profession,'! and 
withal a man of kind and genial spirit. This last attribute, hov^ver, 
had been less carefully developed than his intellectual gifts, land 
was, in truth, rather a matter of shame than self-congratulation ^th 
him. There he stood, with a border of grizzled locks beneath his 
skullcap; while his gray eyes, accustomed to the shaded light of his 
study, were winking, like those of Hester’s infant, in the unadulterated 
sunshine. He looked like the darkly engraved portraits which we see 
prefixed to old volumes of sermons; and had no more right than one 
of those portraits would have to step forth, as he now did, and meddle 
with a question of human guilt, passion and anguish. 

“Hester Prynne,” said the clergyman, “I have striven with my 
young brother here, under whose preaching of the word you have 
been privileged to sit” — ^here Mr. Wilson laid his hand on the shoul- 
der of a pale young man beside him — have sought, I say, to per- 
suade this gody youth, that he should deal with you, here in the 
face of Heaven, and before these wise and upright rulers, and in 
hearing of all the people, as touching the vileness and blackness of 
your sin. Knowing your natural temper better than I, he could the 
better judge what arguments to use, whether of tenderness or terror, 
such as might prevail over your hardness and obstinacy; insomuch 
that you should no longer hide the name of him who tempted you 
to this grievous fall. But he opposes to me (with a young man’s over- 
softness, albeit wise beyond his years) that it were wronging the 
very nature of woman to force her to lay open her heart’s secrets in 
such broad daylight, and in presence of so great a multitude. Truly, 
as 1 sought to convince him, the shame lay in the commission of the 
sin, and not in the showing of it forth. What say you to it, once 
again. Brother Dimmesdale? Must it be thou, or I, that shall deal 
with this poor sinner’s soul?” 

There was a murmur among the dignified and reverend occupants 
of the balcony; and Governor Bellingham pve expression to its 
porport, speaking in an authoritative voice, although tempered 


The Scaklet Letter 

with respect toward the youthful clergyman whom he addressed. 

‘‘Good Master Dimmesdale,” said he, “the responsibility of this 
wcmian’s soul lies greatly with you. It behooves you, therefore, to 
exhort her to repentance, and to confession, as a proof and conse- 
quence thereof.” 

The directness of this appeal drew the eyes of the whole crowd 
upon the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale; a young clergyman, who had 
come from one of the great English universities, brin^g all the 
learning of the age into our wild forest land. His eloquence and re- 
ligious fervor had already given the earnest of high eminence in his 
profession. He was a person of very striking aspect, with a white, 
lofty and impending brow, largp, brown, melancholy eyes, and a 
mouth which, unless when he forcibly compressed it, was apt to be 
tremulous, expressing both nervous sensibility and a vast power of 
self-restraint. Notwithstanding his high native gifts and scholar-like 
attainments, there was an air about this young minister — an appre- 
hensive, a startled, a half-frightened look — as of a being who felt 
himself quite astray and at a loss in the pathway of human existence, 
and could only be at ease in some seclusion of his own. Therefore, 
so far as his duties would permit, he trod in the shadowy bypaths, 
and thus kept himself simple and childlike; coming forth, when 
occasion was, with a freshness, and fragrance, and dewy purity of 
thought, which, as many people said, affected them like the speech 
of an angel. . . . 

“Speak to the woman, my brother,” said Mr. Wilson. “It is of 
moment to her soul, and therefore, as the worshipful Governor says, 
momentous to thine own, in whose charge hers is. Exhort her to con- 
fess the truth!” 

The Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale bent his head, in silent prayer, 
as it seemed, and then came forward. 

“Hester Pryime,” said he, leaning over the balcony and looking 
down steadfastly into her eyes, “thou bearest what this good man 
says, and seest ihe accountability under which 1 labor. If thou feelest 
it to be for thy soul’s peace, and that thy earthly punishment will 
thereby be made more effectual to salvation, I charge thee to speak 
out the name of thy fellow siimer and fellow sufferer! Be not silmit 
from any mistaken pity and tenderness for him; for, believe me, 
Hester, though be were to step down from a hi^ place, and trtand 
there beside thee on thy pedestal of shame, yet better were it so, 
than to hide a guilty heart through life. What can thy- silence do kg 


Nathaniel Hawthorne 

him, except it tempt him — ^yea, compel him, as it were — ^to add hy- 
pocrisy to sin? Heaven hath granted thee an open ignominy, that 
thereby thou mayest work out an open triumph over the evil within 
thee, and the sorrow without. Take heed how thou deniest to him — 
who, perchance, hath not the courage to grasp it for himself — ^the 
bitter, but wholesome, cup that is now presented to thy lips!” 

The young pastor’s voice was tremulously sweet, rich, deep},' and 
broken. The feeling that it so evidently manifested, rather thai^ the 
direct purport of the words, caused it to vibrate within all hearts, 
and brou^t the listeners into one accord of sympathy. Eveni the 
poor baby, at Hester’s bosom, was affected by the same influence; 
for it directed its hitherto vacant gaze toward Mr. Dimmesdale, and 
held up its little arms, with a half-pleased, half-plaintive murmur. 
So powerful seemed the minister’s appeal that the people could not 
believe but that Hester Piynne would speak out the guilty name; 
or else that the guilty one himself, in whatever high or lowly place 
he stood, would be drawn forth by an inward and inevitable necessity, 
and compelled to ascend the sci^old. 

Hester shook her head. 

“Woman, transgress not beyond the limits of Heaven’s mercy!” 
cried the Reverend Mr. Wilson, more harshly than before. “Iliat 
little babe hath been gifted with a voice, to second and confirm the 
counsel which thou hast heard. Speak out the name! That, and thy 
repentance, may avail to take the scarlet letter off thy breast.” 

“Never!” replied Hester Ptynne, looking, not at Mr. Wilson, but 
into the deep and troubled eyes of the younger clergyman. “It is too 
deeply branded. Ye cannot take it off. And would that I might en- 
dure his agony, as well as mine!” 

“Speak, woman!” said another voice, coldly and sternly, proceed- 
ing from the crowd about the scaffold. “Speak; and give your child 
a father!” 

“I will not speak!” answered Hester, turning pale as death, but 
responding to t^ voice, which she too surely recognized. “And my 
diild must seek a heavenly Father; she shall never know an earthly 

“She will not speak!” murmured Mr. Dimmesdale, vidio, leaning 
over the balcony, with his hand upon his heart, had awaited the 
lesidt of his appeal. He now drew back, with a long respiration. 
“Wondrous strength and gcaierosity of a woman’s heart! She will not 


The Scarlet Letter 

Discerning the imfnracticable state of the poor culprit’s mind, the 
elder clergyman, who had carefully prepared himself for the oc- 
casion, addressed to the multitude a discourse on sin, in all its 
branches, but with continual reference to the ignominious letter. . . . 
Hester Prynne, meanwhile, kept her place upon the pedestal of 
shame, with ^azed eyes, and an air of weary indifference. She had 
borne, that morning, ^ that nature could endure; and as her tempera- 
ment was not of the order that escapes from too intense suffering by 
a swoon, her spirit could only shelter itself beneath a stony crust of 
insensibili^, while the faculties of animal life remained entire. In 
this state, the voice of the preacher thimdered remorselessly, but 
unavailingly, upon her ears. The infant, during the latter portion of 
her ordeal, pierced the air with its wailings and screams; she strove 
to hush it, mechanically, but seemed scarcely to sympathize with its 
trouble. With the same hard demeanor, she was led back to prison, 
and vanished from the public gaze within its iron-clamped portal. 
It was whispered, by those who peered after her, that the scarlet 
letter threw a lurid ^eam along the dark passageway of the interior. 

The Interview 

A FTER HER RETURN TO THE PRISON, Hester Pryime was found to 
J\. be in a state of nervom excitement that demanded ccmstant 
watchfulness lest she should perpetrate violence on herself or do 
some half-fremded mischief to the poor babe. As ni^t approached, 
it proving impossible to quell her insubordination by rebuke or threats 
of punishment. Master Brackett, the jailer, thou^t fit to introduce 
a physician. He described him as a man of skill in all Christian modes 
of physical science, and likewise familiar with whatever the savage 
people could teadi, in respect to medicinal herbs and roots diat 
grew in the forest. To say the truth, there was much need ol {uo- 
fessional assistance, not merd^ for Hester herself, but stiff mote 
urgently for the child; who, drawing its sustenance from the ma- 
ternal bosom, seemed to have drank in with it all the termeff, the 
anguish and despair, whkh pervaded the mother’s system. It now 
writhed in convulsions of pain, and was a lorcit^ Qqw in ffs litffe 
frame, of the moral agcmy s^iich Hester Piynae had home through 
out the day. 


Nathaniel Hawthorne 

Gosely foUowing the jailer into the dismal apartment appeared that 
individual, of singular aspect, whose presence in the crowd had 
been of such deep interest to the wearer of the scarlet letter. He was 
lodged in the prison, not as suspected of any offense, but as the 
most convenient and suitable mode of disposing of him, until the 
magistrate should have conferred with the Indian sagamores respect- 
ing his ransom. His name was announced as Roger Chillingworth. 
The jailer, after ushering him into the room, remained a moment, 
marveling at the comparative quiet that followed his entrance*,\>for 
Hester Prynne had immediately become as still as death, although 
the child continued to moan. 

“Prithee, friend, leave me alone with my patient,” said the prac- 
titioner. “Trust me, good jailer, you shall briefly have peace in your 
house; and, I promise you. Mistress Prynne shall hereafter be more 
amenable to just authority than you may have found her heretofore.” 

“Nay, if your worship can accomplish that,” answered Master 
Brackett, “I shall own you for a man of skill indeed! Verily, the 
woman hath been like a possessed one; and there lacks little, that, I 
should take in hand to drive Satan out of her with stripes.” 

The stranger had entered the room wiA the characteristic quietude 
of the profession to which he announced himself as belonging. Nor 
did his demeanor change, when the withdrawal of the prison keeper 
left him face to face with the woman, whose absorbed notice of him, 
in the crowd, had intimated so close a relation between himself and 
her. His first care was given to the child; whose cries, indeed, as she 
lay writhing on the trundle bed, made it of peremptory necessity to 
postpone sdl other business to the task of soothing her. He examined 
the infant carefully, and then proceeded to unclasp a leathern case, 
which he took from beneath his dress. It appeared to contain medical 
preparations, one of which he mingled with a cup of water. 

“My old studies in alchemy,” observed he, “and my sojourn, for 
above a year past, among a people well versed in the kindly proper- 
ties of simples, have made a better physician of me than many that 
daim the medical degree. Here, woman! The child is yours — she is 
none of mine— neither will she recognize my voice or aspect as a 
father’s. Administer this draught, therefore, witih thine own hand.” 

Hester repelled the offered medicine, at the same time gazing with 
strongly marked apprehension into his face. 

“Wouldst thou avenge thyself on the innocent babe?” whispered 



The Scarlet Letter 

“Foolish woman!” responded the physician, half coldly, half sooth- 
ingly. “What should ail me, to harm diis misbegotten and miserable 
babe? The medicine is potent for good; and were it my child — ^yea, 
mine own, as well as thine! — I could do no better for it.” 

As she still hesitated, being, in fact, in no reasonable state of mind, 
he took the infant in his arms, and himself administered the draught 
It soon proved its efficacy, and redeemed the leech’s pledge. The 
moans of the little patient subsided; its convulsive tossings gradually 
ceased; and, in a few moments, as is the custom of young children 
after relief from pain, it sank into a profound and dewy slumber. 
The physician, as he had a fair right to be termed, next bestowed his 
attention on the mother. With calm and intent scrutiny, he felt her 
pulse, looked into her eyes — a gaze that made her heart shrink* and 
shudder, because so familiar, and yet so strange and cold — ^and, 
finally, satisfied with his investigation, proceeded to min^e another 

“I know not Lethe nor Nepenthe,” remarked he, “but I have 
learned many new secrets in the wilderness, and here is one of 
them — a recipe that an Indian taught me, in requital of some lessons 
of my own, that were as old as Paracelsus. Drink it! It may be less 
soothing than a sinless conscience. That I cannot give thee. But it 
will calm the swell and heaving of thy passion, like oil thrown on 
the waves of a tempestuous sea.” 

He presented the cup to Hester, who received it with a slow, 
earnest look into his face; not precisely a look of fear yet full of 
doubt and questioning, as to what his purposes might be. She looked 
also at her slumbering child. 

“1 have thou^t of death,” smd she, “have wished for it — ^would 
even have prayed for it, were it fit that such as I should pray for 
anything. Yet, if death be in this cup, I bid thee think a gain, ere 
thou beholdest me quail it. See! It is even now at my lips.” 

“Drink, then,” replied he, still with the same cold composure. 
“Dost thou know me so little, Hester Pryime? Are my purposes wont 
to be so shallow? Even if I imagine a scheme of vengeance, what 
could I do better for my object than to let thee live — than to ^ve 
thee medicines against all harm and peril of life — so that this burning 
shame may still blaze upon thy bosom?” As he spoke, he laid his 
long forefinger on the scarlet letter, which fcuthwith seemed to scotch 

***t(*| IX Sd. ■ 1- .. ww- . A* •• m • 

— '*■- - — M. *•> X JIW JUVX MJUT 

voluntary gesture, and smiled. "Live, therefore, and bear about thy 


Nathaniel Hawthorne 

doom with thee, in the eyes of men and women — in the eyes of him 
whom thou didst call thy husband — ^in the eyes of yonder child! 
And, that thou mayest live, take off this draught.” 

Without further expostulation or delay, Hester Prynne drained the 
cup, and, at the motion of the man of skill, seated herself on the bed 
where the child was sleeping; while he drew the only chair which 
the room afforded, and took his own se&t beside her. She could not 
but tremble at these preparations; for she felt that — Shaving ^.now 
done all that hwnanity, or principle or, if so it were, a refined cniplty, 
impelled him to do, for the relief of physical suffering — ^he was tiext 
to treat with her as the man whom she had most deeply and. ir- 
reparably injured. 

“Hester,” said he, “I ask not wherefore, nor how, thou hast fallen 
into the pit, or say, rather, thou hast ascended to the pedestal of 
infamy on which I found thee. The reason is not far to seek. It was 
my folly, and thy weakness. I — a man of thought — ^the bookworm of 
great libraries — a man already in decay, having given my best years 
to feed the hungry dream of knowledge — ^what had I to do with 
youth and beauty like thine own! Misshapen from my birth-hour, 
how could I delude myself with the idea that intellectual ^ifts migjiit 
veil physical deformity in a young ^I’s fantasy! Men call me wise. 
If sages were ever wise in their own behoof, I mig^t have foreseen 
all this. I might have known that, as I came out of the vast and 
dismal forest, and entered this settlement of Qiristian men, the very 
first object to meet my eyes would be thyself, Hester Prytme, standing 
up, a statue of ignominy, before the people. Nay, from the moment 
when we came down the old church steps together, a married pair, 
I mig^t have beheld the balefire of that scarlet letter blaring at the 
end of our path!” 

“Thou knowest,” said Hester — ^for, depressed as she was, she 
could not endure this last quiet stab at the token of her shame — 
“thou knowest that I was frank with thee. I felt no love, nor feigned 

“True,” replied he. “It was my folly! I have said it But «p to 
that ^poch of my life, I had lived in vain. The world had ^n so 
cheerless! My heart was a habitation large enoug^i for many guests, 
but lonely and chill, and without a household fire. I Imiged to Idndte 
one! It seemed not so wild a dream— old as I was, and somber as I 
was, and misshapen as I was — that the simple b^s, which is scat- 
tered far and wide, for all mankind to gather up, mi^t yet be ndne. 


The Scarlet Letter 

And so, Hester, 1 drew thee into my heart, into its innermost chamber, 
and sou^t to warm thee by the warmth which thy presence made 

“I have greatly wronged thee,” murmured Hester. 

”We have wronged each other,” answered he. “Mine was the 
first wrong, when I betrayed thy budding youth into a false and 
unnatural relation with my decay. Therefore, as a man who has not 
thought and philosophized in vain, 1 seek no vengeance, plot no evil 
against thee. Between thee and me, the scale hangs fairly bal- 
anced. But, Hester, the man lives who has wronged us both! Who is 

“Ask me not!” replied Hester Prynne, looking firmly into his 
face. “That thou shalt never know!” 

“Never, sayest thou?” rejoined he, with a smile of dark and self- 
relying intelligence. “Never know him! Believe me, Hester, there are 
few things — ^whether in the outward world, or, to a certain depth, 
in the invisible sphere of thought — ^few things hidden from the man 
who devotes himself earnestly and unreservedly to the solution of 
a mystery. Thou mayest cover up thy secret from the prying multi- 
tude. Thou mayest conceal it, too, from the ministers and magistrates, 
even as thou ^dst this day, when they sought to wrench &e name 
out of thy heart, and gjve thee a partner on thy pedestal. But, as for 
me, I come to the inquest with other senses than they possess. I shall 
seek this man, as I have sought truth in books; as I have sought gdd 
in alchemy. There is a sympathy that will make me conscious of him. 
I shall see him tremble. I shall feel myself shudder, suddenly and un- 
awares. Sooner or later, he must ne^s be mine!” 

The eyes of the wrinkled scholar glowed so intensely upon her, 
that Hester Prynne clasped her hands over her heart, dreading lest 
he should read the secret there at once. 

“Thou wilt not reveal his name? Not the less he is mine,” re- 
sumed he, with a look of confidence, as if destiny were at one vith 
him. “He bears no letter of infamy wrought into his gturment, as 
thou dost; but 1 shall read it on Us heart. Yet fear not for him! 
Think not that 1 shall interfere with Heaven’s own method of retri- 
bution, or, to my own loss, betray Urn to the gripe of human law. 
Neither do thou imagine that I shall contrive augjht against Us 1^; 
no, nor against his fame, if, as I judge, he be a man of fair repute. 
Let him live! Let him ^e himself in outward honor, if he may! 
Not the less he shall be mine!” 


Nathaniel Hawthorne 

“ITiy acts are like mercy,” said Hester, bewildered and appalled. 
“But thy words interpret thee as a terror!” 

“One thing, thou that wast my wife, I would enjoin upon thee,” 
continued the scholar. “Thou hast kept the secret of thy paramour. 
Keep, likewise, mine! There are none in this land that know me. 
Breathe not, to any human soul, that thou didst call me husband! 
Here, on this wild outskirt of the ear^ I shall pitch my tent; for, 
elsewhere a wanderer, and isolated from human interests, I find.' here 
a woman, a man, a child, amongst whom and myself there exist the 
closest ligaments. No matter whether of love or hate; no matter 
whether of right or wrong! Thou and thine, Hester Prynne, bdong 
to me. My home is where thou art, and where he is. But betray me 

“Wherefore dost thou desire it?” inquired Hester, shrinking, she 
hardly knew why, from this secret bond. “Why not announce Ayself 
openly, and cast me off at once?” 

“It may be,” he replied, “because I will not encounter the dishonor 
that besmirches the husband of a faithless woman. It may be for 
other reasons. Enough, it is my purpose to live and die unknown. 
Let, therefore, thy husband be to the world as one already dead, 
and of whom no tidings shall ever come. Recognize me not, by 
word, by sign, by look! Breathe not the secret, above all, to the 
man thou wottest of. Shouldst thou fail me in this, beware! His 
fame, his position, his life, will be in my hands. Beware!” 

“I will keep thy secret, as I have his,” said Hester. 

“Swear it!” rejoined he. 

And she took the oath. 

“And now. Mistress Prynne,” said old Roger Giillingworth, as 
he was hereafter to be named, “I leave thee alone; alone with thy 
infant, and the scarlet letter! How is it, Hester? Doth thy sentence 
bind thee to wear the token in thy sleep? Art thou not afraid of night- 
mares and hideous dreams?” 

“Why dost thou smile so at me?” inquired Hester, troubled at the 
expression of his eyes. “Art thou like the Black Man that haunts the 
forest round about us? Hast thou enticed me into a bond that will 
prove the ruin of my soul?” 

“Not thy soul,” he answered, with another smile. “No, not thine!” 



Hester at Her Needle 

H ester prynne’s term of confinement was now at an end. 

Her prison door was thrown open, and she came forth into 
the sunshine, which, falling on all alike, seemed, to her sick and 
morbid heart, as if meant for no other purpose than to reveal the 
scarlet letter on her breast. Perhaps there was a more real torture 
in her first unattended footsteps from the threshold of the prison, 
than even in the procession and spectacle that have been described, 
where she was made the common infamy, at which all mankind was 
summoned to point its finger. Then, she was supported by an un- 
natural tension of the nerves, and by all the combative energy of 
her character, which enabled her to convert the scene into a kind 
of lurid triumph. It was, moreover, a separate and insulated event, 
to occur but once in her lifetime, and to meet which, therefore, reck- 
less of economy, she might call up the vital strength that would have 
sufiSced for many quiet years. The very law that condemned her — 
a giant of stem features, but with vigor to support, as well as to 
annihilate, in his iron arm — ^had held her up, through the terrible 
ordeal of her ignominy. But now, with this unattended walk from 
her prison door, began the daily custom; and she must either sustain 
and carry it forward by the ordinary resources of her nature, or 
sink beneath it. She could no longer torrow from the future to help 
her through the present grief. Tomorrow would bring its own trid 
with it; so would the next day, and so would the next; each its own 
trial, and yet the very same diat was now so unutterably grievous to 
be borne. The days of the far-off future would toil onward, still with 
the same burden for her to take up, and bear along with her, but 
never to fling down; for the accumulating days, and added years, 
would pile up their misery upon the heap of shame. Throu^out them 
all, giving up her individuality, she would become the general symbol 
at which the preacher and moralist might point, and in which ffiey 
mig^t vivii^ and embody their images of woman’s frailty and aiffid 
passion. Thus the young and pure would be taught to look at her, 
with the scarlet letter flaming on her breast — at her, the child of 
honorable parents — at her, the mother of a babe, that wotdd Imre- 
after be a woman — at her, who had once been innocent— las the 

Nathaniel Hawthorne 

figure, the body, the reality of sin. And over her grave, the infamy 
that she must carry thither would be her only monument. 

It may seem marvelous, that, with the world before her — kept by 
no restrictive clause of her condemnation within the limits of the 
Puri tan settlement, so remote and so obscure — free to return to her 
birthplace, or to any other European land, and there hide her char- 
acter and identity under a new exterior,'^ completely as if emetj^g 
into another state of being — and having also the passes of the ^k, 
inscrutable forest open to her, where the wildness of her naure 
migh t assimilate itself with a people whose customs and life v^ere 
alien from the law that had condemned her — it may seem marvelbus 
that this woman should still call that place her home, where, ahd 
where only, she must needs be the type of shame. But there is a 
fatality, a feeling so irresistible and inevitable that it has the force of 
doom, which almost invariably compels human beings to linger 
around and haunt, ghostlike, the spot where some great and marked 
event has given the color to their lifetime; and still the more irresist- 
ibly, the darker the tinge that saddens it. Her sin, her ignominy, were 
the roots which she had struck into the soil. 

It might be, too — doubtless it was so, although she hid the secret 
from herself, and grew pale whenever it strugglled out of her heart, 
like a serpent from its hole — ^it mig^t be that another feeling kept 
her within the scene and pathway that had been so fatal. There 
dwelt, there trod the feet of one with whom she deemed herself 
connected in a union, that, unrecognized on earth, would bring them 
together before the bar of final judgment, and make that their mar- 
riage altar, for a joint futurity of endless retribution. Over and 
over again, the tempter of souls had thrust his idea upon Hester’s 
contemplation, and laughed at the passionate and desperate joy with 
which she seized, and then strove to cast it from her. She barely 
looked the idea in the face, and hastened to bar it in its dungeon. 
What she compelled herself to believe — what, finally, she reasoned 
upon, as her motive for continuing a resident of New England — was 
half a truth, and half a self-delusion. Here, she said to herself, had 
been the scene of her guilt, and here should be the scene of her 
earthly punishment; and so, perchance, the torture of her daily shame 
would at length purge her soul, and work out another purity than that 
which she had lost; more saintlike, because the result of martyrdom. 

Hmtm: Prynne, therefore, did not flee. On the outskirts of the town, 
within the verge of the peninsula, but not in dose vicinity to any other 


The Scarlet Letter 

habitation, there was a small thatched cottage. It had been built by an 
earlier settler, and abandoned, because the soil about it was too sterile 
for cultivation, while its comparative remoteness put it out of the 
sphere of that social activity which already marked the habits of the 
emigrants. It stood on the shore, looking across a basin of the sea at 
the forest-covered hills, toward the west. A clump of scrubby trees, 
such as alone grew on the peninsula, did not so much conceal the cot- 
tage from view, as seem to denote that here was some object which 
would fain have been, or at least ought to be, concealed. In this little, 
lonesome dwelling, with some slender means that she possessed, and 
by the license of ^e magistrates, who still kept an inquisitorial watch 
over her, Hester established herself, with her infant child. A mystic 
shadow of suspicion immediately attached itself to the spot. Children, 
too young to comprehend wherefore this woman should be shut out 
from the sphere of human charities, would creep nigh enougfi to be- 
hold her plying her needle at the cottage window, or standing at the 
doorway, or laboring in her little garden, or coming forth along the 
pathway that led townward; and discerning the scarlet letter on her 
breast, would scamper off with a strange, contagious fear. 

Lonely as was Hester’s situation, and without a friend on earth 
who dared to show himself, she, however, incurred no risk of want. 
She possessed an art that sufficed, even in a land that afforded com- 
paratively little scope for its exercise, to supply food for her thriving 
infant and herself. It was the art — ^then, as now, almost the only one 
within a woman’s grasp — of needlework. She bore on her breast, in 
the curiously embroidered letter, a specimen of her delicate and im- 
aginative skill, of which the dames of a court might ^adly have availed 
themselves, to add the richer and more spiritual adornment of human 
ingenuity to their fabrics of silk and gold. . . . 

By degrees, nor very slowly, her handiwork became what would 
now be termed the fashion. Whether from commiseration for a woman 
of so miserable a destiny; or from the morbid curiosity that gives a 
fictitious value even to common' or worthless things; or by whatev^ 
other intangible circmnstance was then, as now sufficient to bestow, 
(m some persons, what others might seek in vain; or because Bfester 
really filled a gap whi(ffi must otherwise have remained vacant; it is 
certain that she had ready and fairly requited employment for ns 
many hours as she saw fit to occupy with her needle. Vanity; it may be, 
chose to mortify itself, by putting on, for ceremonials (ff pon^ and 
state, the garments that had beem wrought by her sinful hands. Her 

Nathaniel Hawthorne 
needlework was seen on the ruff of the Governor; military men wore 
it on their scarfs, and the minister on his band; it decked the baby’s 
little cap; it was shut up to be mUdewed and molder away, in the 
coffins of the dead. But it is not recorded that, in a single instance, her 
skill was called in aid to embroider the white veil which was to cover 
the pure blushes of a bride. The exception indicated the ever-relentless 
rigor with which society frowned upomber sin. ;i 

Hester sought not to acquire anything beyond a subsistence, of the 
plainest and most ascetic description, for herself, and a simple abun- 
dance for her child. Her own dress was of the coarsest materials and 
the most somber hue; with only that one ornament — the scarlet let- 
ter — ^which it was her doom to wear. The child’s attire, on the other 
hand, was distinguished by a fanciful, or, we might rather say, a 
fantastic ingenuity, which served, indeed, to heighten the airy charm 
that early began to develop itself in the little girl, but which appeared 
to have also a deeper meaning. We may speak further of it hereafter. 
Except for that small expenditure in the decoration of her infant, 
Hester bestowed all her superfluous means in charity, on wretches 
less miserable than herself, and who not unfrequently insulted the 
hand that fed them. Much of the time, which she might readily have 
applied to the better efforts of her art, she employed in making coarse 
garments for the poor. It is probable that there was an idea of penance 
in this mode of occupation, and that she offered up a real sacrifice of 
enjoyment, in devoting so many hours to such rude handiwork. She 
had in her nature a rich, voluptuous. Oriental characteristic — a taste 
for the gorgeously beautiful, which, save in the exquisite productions 
of her needle, found nothing else, in all the possibilities of her life, to 
exercise itself upon. Women derive a pleasure, incomprehensible to 
the other sex, from the delicate toil of the needle. To Hester Prynne 
it might have been a mode of expressing, and therefore soothing, the 
passion of her life. Like all other joys, she rejected it as sin. This 
morbid meddling of conscience with an immaterial matter betokened, 
it is to be feared, no genuine and steadfast penitence, but something 
doubtful, something that might be deeply wrong, beneath. 

In this manner, Hester Pi^ime came to have a part to perform in 
the world. With her native energy of character, and rare capacity, it 
could not entirely cast her off, although it had set a mark upon her, 
more intolerable to a woman’s heart than that which branded die brow 
of Cain. In all her intercourse with society, howeveir, there was noth- 
Big diat made her feel as if she belonged to it. Every gesture, every 


The Scarlet Letter 

word, and even the sOence of those with whom she came in contact, 
implied, and often expressed, that she was banished, and as much 
alone as if she inhabited another sphere, or communicated with the 
common nature by other organs and senses than the rest of human 
kind. She stood apart from moral interests, yet close beside them, like 
a ghost that revisits the familiar fireside, and can no longer make itself 
seen or felt; no more smile with the household joy, nor mourn with 
the kindred sorrow; or, should it succeed in manifesting its forbidden 
sympathy, awakening only terror and horrible repugnance. These 
emotions, in fact, and its bitterest scorn besides, seemed to be the sole 
portion that she retained in the universal heart. It was not an age of 
delicacy; and her position, although she understood it well, and. was 
in little danger of forgetting it, was often brought before her vivid 
self-perception, like a new anguish, by the rudest touch upon the ten- 
derest spot. The poor, as we have already said, whom she sought out 
to be the objects of her bounty, often reviled the hand that was 
stretched forth to succor them. Dames of elevated rank, likewise, 
whose doors she entered in the way of her occupation, were accus- 
tomed to distil drops of bitterness into her heart, sometimes throu^ 
that alchemy of quiet malice, by which women can concoct a subtle 
poison from ordinary trifles; and sometimes, also, by a coarser expres- 
sion, that fell upon the sufferer’s defenseless breast like a rough blow 
upon an ulcerated wound. Hester had schooled herself long and well; 
she never responded to these attacks, save by a flush of crimson that 
rose irrepressibly over her pale cheek, and again subsided into the 
depths of her bosom. She was patient — a mar^, indeed — but she 
forbore to pray for her enemies; lest, in spite of her forgiving aspira- 
tions, the words of the blessing should stubbornly twist themselves 
into a curse. 

Continually, and in a thousand other ways, did she feel the innu- 
merable throbs of anguish that had been so cunningly connived for 
her by the undying, Ae ever-active sentence of the Puritan tribunaL 
Qergymen paused in the street to address words of exhortation, that 
brought a crowd, wifii its mingled grin and frown, around the poor, 
sinful woman. If she entered a church, trusting to share the Sabbath 
smile of the Universal Father, it was often her mishap to find herself 
the text of the discourse. She grew to have a dread (ff children; for 
they had imbibed from their parents a vague idea of something horri- 
ble in this dreary woman, gliding silratly throuj^ the town, wi& never 
any companion but one only child. Iherefore, first allowing her to 


Nathamel Hawthorne 

pass, they pursued her at a distance with shrill cries, and the utterance 
of a word that had no distinct purport to their own minds, but was 
none the less terrible to her, as proceeding from lips that babUed it 
unconsciously. It seemed to argue so wide a diffusion of her shame, 
tha t all nature knew of it; it could have caused her no deeper pang, 
had the leaves of the trees whispered the dark story among themselves 
— ^had the summer breeze murmured about it — ^had the wintry {blast 
shrieked it aloud! Another peculiar torture was felt in the gaze:\^of a 
new eye. When strangers looked curiously at the scarlet letter-4and 
none ever failed to do so — ^they branded it afresh into Hester’s soul; 
so that oftentimes, she could scarcely refrain, yet always did refrain, 
from covering the symbol with her hand. But then, again, an accns- 
tomed eye had likewise its own anguish to inflict. Its cool stare of 
familiarity was intolerable. From first to last, in short, Hester Prynne 
had always this dreadful agony in feeling a human eye upon the token; 
the spot never grew callous; it seemed, on the contrary, to grow more 
sensitive with daily torture. . . . 

The vulgar, who, in those dreary old times, were always contrib- 
uting a grotesque horror to what interested their ima^ations, had a 
story about the scarlet letter which we might readily work up into a 
terrific legend. They averred, that the symbol was not mere scarlet 
cloth, tinged in an earthly dye pot, but was red-hot with infernal fire, 
and could be seen glowing ^ alight, whenever Hester Prynne walked 
abroad in the nighttime. And we must needs say, it seared Hester’s 
bosom so deeply, that perhaps there was more truth in the rumor than 
our modem incredulity may be inclined to admit. 



W E HAVE AS YET hardly spoken of the infant; that little creature, 
whose iimocent life had sprung, by the inscrutable decree of 
Providence, a lovely and immortal flower, out of the rank luxuriance 
of a guilty passion. How strange it seemed to the sad woman, as she 
watched the growth, and the beauty that became every day more 
brilliant, and the intelligence that threw its quivering sunshine over 
the tiny features of tlus child! Her Pearl! — For so had Hester called 
her; not as ^ name expressive of her aspect, which had nothing ci 
the calm, white, unimpassioned luster that would be indicated by the 


The Scarlet Letter 

comparison. But she named the infant “Pearl,” as being of great 
price — ^purchased with all she had — her modier’s only treasure! 
How strange, indeed! Man had marked this woman’s sin by a scar-! 
let letter, which had such potent and disastrous efficacy that no hu- 
man sympathy could reach her, save it were sinful like herself. God, 
as a direct consequence of the sin which man thus punished, had 
given her a lovely child, whose place was on that same dishonored 
bosom, to connect her parent forever with the race and descent 
mortals, and to be finaUy a blessed soul in heaven! Yet these though 
affected Hester Ptynne less with hope than apprehension. She knew 
that her deed had been evil; she could have no faith, therefore, that 
its result would be good. Day after day, she looked fearfully intone 
child’s expanding nature, ever dreading to detect some dark and 
wild peculiarity, that should correspond with the guiltiness to which 
she owed her being. 

Certainly, there was no physical defect. By its perfect shape, its 
vigor, and its natural dexterity in the use of all its untried limbs, the 
infant was worthy to have been brought forth in Eden; worthy to 
have been left there, to be the plaything of the angels, after the 
world’s first parents were driven out. The child had a native gra(» 
which does not invariably coexist with faultless beauty; its attire, 
however simple, always impressed the beholder as if it were the very 
garb that precisely became it best But little Pearl was not clad in 
rustic weeds. Her mother, with a morbid purpose, that may be better 
understood hereafter, had bought the richest tissues that could be 
procured, and allowed her imaginative faculty its full play in the 
arrangement and decoration of the dresses which the child wore, be- 
fore the public eye. So magnificent was the small figure, when thus 
arrayed, and such was the sj^endor of Pearl’s own proper beauty, 
shining through the gorgeous robes which might have ex tinguishe d 
a paler loveliness, that there was an absolute circle of radiance 
around her, on the dark^me cottage floor. And yet a russet gown, 
tom and soiled with the child’s rude play, made a picture of her just 
as perfect. Pearl’s aspect was imbued wiffi a spell of infinite variety; 
in this one child there were msmy children, comprehmding die fudl 
scope between the wild flower prettiness of a peasant baby, and. the 
pomp, in little, of an infant princess. Througjioot aQ, however, time 
was a trait of passion, a certain depth of hue, whu^ never loit; 
and if, in any of her dianges, she had ^wn fainter or paler* ilie 
would have ceased to be hets^ — it would have bem no longer Peail; 

Nathaniel Hawthorne 

This outward mutabili^ indicated, and did not more than fairly 
express, the various properties of her inner life. Her nature ap- 
peared to possess depth, too, as well as variety; but— or else Hester’s 
fears deceived her — ^it lacked reference and adaptation to the world 
into which she was bom. The child could not be made amenable to 
rules. In giving her existence, a great law had been broken; and the 
result was a being whose elements were perhaps beautiful anid bril- 
liant, but all in dsorder; or with an order peculiar to themselves, 
amidst which the point of variety and arrangement was difficult or 
impossible to be discovered. Hester could only account for the child’s 
character — and even then most vaguely and imperfectly — ^by recall- 
ing what she herself had been, during that momentous period while 
Pearl was imbibing her soul from the spiritual world, and her bodily 
frame from its material of earth. The mother’s impassioned state had 
been the medium through which were transmitted to the unborn infant 
the rays of its moral life; and, however white and clear originally, they 
had taken the deep stains of crimson and gold, the fiery luster, the 
black shadow, and the untempered light of the intervening substance. 
Above all, the warfare of Hester’s spirit, at that epoch, was perpetu- 
ated in Pearl. She could recognize her wild, desperate, defiant mood, 
the flightiness of her temper, and even some of the very cloud shapes 
of gloom and despondency that had brooded in her heart. They 
were now illuminated by the morning radiance of a young child’s 
disposition, but later in Ae day of earthly existence might be prolific 
of the storm and whirlwind. 

. . . Her mother, while Pearl was yet an infant, grew acquainted 
with a certain peculiar look, that warned her when it would be labor 
thrown away to insist, persuade, or plead. It was a look so intelli- 
gent, yet inexplicable, so perverse, sometimes so malicious, but gen- 
erally accompanied by a wild flow of spirits, that Hester could not 
help questioning, at such moments, whether Pearl were a human 
diild. . . . Whenever that look appeared in her wild, bright, deeply 
black eyes, it invested her with a strange remoteness and intangibil- 
ity; it was as if she were hovering in the air and might vanish, like a 
glimmering light that comes we know not whence, and goes we 
know not whither. Beholding it, Hester was constrained to rush to- 
ward the child — ^to pursue the little elf in the flight which she invari- 
aWy began — to snatch her to her bosom, with a close pressure and 
nmest kisses — ^not so much from overflowing love, as to assure her- 
sdlf that Pearl was flesh and blood, and not utterly delusive. But 


The Scarlet Letter 

Pearl’s laugh, when she was caught, though full of merriment and 
music, made her mother more doubtful than before. 

Heart-smitten at this bewildering and bafSing spell, that so often 
came between herself and her sole treasure, whom she had bou^ 
so dear, and who was all her world, Hester sometimes burst into 
passionate tears. Then, perhaps — for there was no foreseeing how it 
might affect her — Pearl would frown, and clench her little fist, and 
harden her small features into a stem, unsympathizing look of dis- 
content. Not seldom, she would laugh anew, and louder than be- 
fore, like a thing incapable and unintelligent of human sorrow. Or — 
but this more rarely happened — ^she would be convulsed with a rage 
of grief, and sob out her love for her mother in broken words, and 
seem intent on proving that she had a heart, by breaking it. Yet 
Hester was hardly safe in confiding herself to that gusty tenderness; 
it passed as suddenly as it came. Brooding over these matters, 
the mother felt like one who has evoked a spirit, but, by some irreg- 
ularity in the process of conjuration, has failed to win the master 
word that should control this new and incomprehensible intelligence. 
Her only real comfort was when the child lay in the placidi^ of 
sleep. Then she was sure of her, and tasted hours of quiet, delicious 
happiness; until — perhaps with that perverse expression glimmering 
from beneath her opening lids — little Pearl awoke! 

How soon — ^with what strange rapidity, indeed! — did Pearl arrive 
at an age that was capable of social intercourse, beyond the moth- 
er’s ever-ready smile and nonsense words! And then what a happi- 
ness would it have been could Hester Prynne have heard her dear, 
birdlike voice mingjling with the uproar of other childish voices, and 
have distinguished and unraveled her own darling’s tones, ^id all 
the entangled outcry of a group of sportive children! But this could 
never be. Pearl was a bom outcast of the infantile world. An imp of 
evil, emblem and product of sin, she had no right among christmed 
infants. Nothing was more remarkable than the instinct, as it seemed, 
with which the child comprehended her loneliness; the destiny that 
had drawn an inviolable circle round about her; the whole peculiar- 
ity, in short, of her position in respect to other children. Never, since 
her release from prison, had Hester met the public gaze without hex. 
In all her walks about the town. Pearl, too, was there; first as the 
babe in arms, and afterwmrd as the little gM, small cmnpanion of 
her mother, holding a forefinger ndth her whole grasp, and trijqwng 
along at the rate of three or four fo<^h^ to one d ifester’s. She 


Nathaniel Hawthorne 
saw the children of the settlement, on the grassy margin of the street, 
or at the domestic thresholds, disporting themselves in such grim 
fashion as the Puritanic nurture would permit; playing at going to 
church, perchance; or at scourging Quakers; or taJdng scalps in a 
sham fight with the Indians; or scaring one another with freaks of 
imitative witchcraft. Pearl saw, and gazed intently, but never sought 
to make acquaintance. If spoken to, 'she would not speak ag^in. If 
the children gathered about her, as they sometimes did. Pearl would 
grow positively terrible in her puny wrath, snatching up stoh|s to 
fling at them, with shrill, incoherent exclamations, that made her 
mother tremble because they had so much the sound of a witch’s 
anathemas in some unknown tongue. 

The truth was, that the little Puritans, being of the most intolerant 
brood that ever lived, had got a vague idea of something outlandish, 
unearthly, or at variance with ordinary fashions, in the mother and 
child; and therefore scorned them in their hearts, and not unfre- 
quently reviled them with their tongues. Pearl felt the sentiment, and 
requited it with the bitterest hatred that can be supposed to rankle 
in a childish bosom. These outbreaks of a fierce temper had a kind 
of value, and even comfort, for her mother; because there was at 
least an intelligible earnestness in the mood, instead of the fitful ca- 
price that so often thwarted her in the child’s manifestations. It ap- 
palled her, nevertheless, to discern here, again, a shadowy reflecticm 
of the evil that had existed in herself. All this enmity and passion 
had Pearl inherited, by inalienable right, out of Hester’s heart. 
Mother and daughter stood together in the same circle of seclusion 
from human society; and in the nature of the child seemed to be 
perpetuated those unquiet elements that had distracted Hester Prynne 
before Pearl’s birth, but had since begun to be soothed away by 
the softening influences of matemi^. 

At home, within and around her mother’s cottage. Pearl wanted 
not a wide and various cirde of acquaintance. The spell of life went 
forth from her ever-creative spirit, and communicated itself to a 
tiiousand objects, as a torch kindles a flame wherever it may be ap- 
fdied. The urdikdiest materials — a stick, a bunch of rags, a flower — 
were the puppets of Pearl’s witchcraft, and, without undergoing any 
outward diwge, became spiritually adapted to whatever drama oc- 
cufued tire stage of her inner worid. Her <me baby voice served a 
mdtitude of imaginary personages, old and yoimg, to talk withal. 
71 m pine trees, aged, black and solemn, and flinging groans and 


The Scarlet Letter 

other melancholy utterances on the breeze, needed little transforma- 
tion to figure as Puritan elders; the ug^est weeds of the garden were 
their children, whom Pearl smote down and uprooted, most unmer- 
cifully. It was wonderful, the vast variety of forms into which she 
threw her intellect, with no continuity, indeed, but darting up and 
dancing, always in a state of preternatural activity — soon sinlring 
down, as if exhausted by so rapid and feverish a tide of life — and 
succeeded by other shapes of a similar wild energy. It was like noth- 
ing so much as the phantasmagoric play of the northern lights. In the 
mere exercise of the fancy, however, and the sportiveness of a grow- 
ing mind, there might be little more than was observable in other 
children of bright faculties; except as Pearl, in the dearth of human 
playmates, was thrown more upon the visionary throng which she 
created. The singularity lay in the hostile feelings with which the 
child regarded all these offspring of her own heart and mmd. She 
never created a friend, but seemed always to be sowing broadcast 
the dragon’s teeth, whence sprung a harvest of armed enemies, 
against whom she rushed to batde. It was inexpressibly sad — ^then 
what depth of sorrow to a mother, who felt in her own heart the 
cause! — to observe, in one so young, this constant recognition of an 
adverse world, and so fierce a training of the energies that were to 
make good her cause in the contest that must ensue. 

Gazing at Pearl, Hester Piynne often dropped her work upon her 
knees, and cried out with an agony which she would fain have hid- 
den, but which made utterance for itself, betwixt speech and a groan 
— “O Father in Heaven — if Thou art still my Father — ^what is this 
being which I have brought into the world!” And Pearl, overhear- 
ing the ejaculation, or aware, througji some more subtile channd, of 
those throbs of anguish, would turn her vivid and beautiful little face 
upon her mother, smile with spritelike intelligence, and resume her 

One peculiarity of the child’s deportment remains yet to be told. 
The very first thing which she had noticed in her Ufe was — ^what? — 
not the mother’s smile, responding to it, as other babies do, by that 
faint, embryo smile of the little mouth, remembered so doubtfully 
afterward, and with such fond discusaon whether it weaz indeed a 
smile. By no means! But that first object of which Pearl seemed to 
become aware was — shall we say it? — ^fiie scarlet letter on Hester’s 
bosom! Oos day, as her mother stooped over the cradle, the infant’s 
eyes had bemi cau^t by the glimmering ci die gold embnfideiy 


Nathaniel Hawthorne 
about the letter; and, putting up her little hand, she grasped at it, 
smiling not doubtfully, but with a decided ^eam, that gave her face 
the look of a much older child. Then, gasping for breath, did 
Hester Prynne clutch the fatal token, instinctively endeavoring to 
tear it away; so infinite was the torture inflicted by the intelligent 
touch of Pearl’s baby hand. Again, as if her mother’s agonized ges- 
ture were meant only to make sport for her, did little Pearl look into 
her eyes, and smile! From that epoch, except when the child^ was 
asleep, Hester had never felt a moment’s safety; not a monifent’s 
calm enjoyment of her. Weeks, it is true, would sometimes elapse, 
during wUch Pearl’s gaze might never once be fixed upon the scar- 
let letter; but hen, again, it would come at unawares, like the stroke 
of sudden death, and always with that peculiar smile, and odd ex- 
pression of the eyes. 

Once, this freakish, elfish cast came into the child’s eyes, while 
Hester was looking at her own image in them, as mothers are fond 
of doing; and, suddenly — for women in solitude, and with troubled 
hearts, are pestered with unaccountable delusions — she fancied that 
she beheld, not her own miniature portrait, but another face, in the 
small black mirror of Pearl’s eyes. It was a face, fiendlike, full 
of smiling malice, yet bearing the semblance of features that she had 
known full well, though seldom with a smile, and never with malice 
in them. It was as if an evil spirit possessed the child, and had just 
then peeped forth in mockery. Many a time afterward had Hester 
been tortured, though less vividly, by the same illusion. 

In the afternoon of a certain summer’s day, after Pearl grew big 
enough to run about, she amused herself with gathering handfuls of 
wild flowers, and flinging them, one by one, at her mother’s bosom; 
dancing up and down, like a little elf, whenever she hit the scarlet 
letter. Hester’s first motion had been to cover her bosom with her 
clasped hands. But, whether from pride or resignation, or a feeling 
that her penance mig|ht best be wrought out by this unutterable pain, 
she resisted the impulse, and sat erect, pale as death, looking sadly 
into little Pearl’s wild eyes. ... At last, her shot being all ex- 
pended, the child stood still and gazed at Hester, with that little, 
lau^iing image of a fiend peeping out — or, whether it peeped or no, 
her mother so imagined it — from the imsearchable abyss of her 
black eyes. 

“CSiild, what art thou?” cried the mother. 

“Oh, I am your little Pearl!” answered the chiM. 


The Scarlet Letter 

But, while she said it, Pearl laughed, and began to dance up and 
down, with the humorsome gesticulation of a little imp whose next 
freak might be to fly up the chimney. 

“Art thou my child, in very truth?” asked Hester. 

Nor did she put the question altogether idly, but, for the moment, 
with a portion of genuine earnestness; for, such was Pearl’s wonder- 
ful intelligence, that her mother half doubted whether she were not 
acquainted with the secret spell of her existence, and might not now 
reveal herself. 

“Yes; I am little Pearl!” repeated the child, continuing her antics. 

“Thou art not my child! Thou art no Pearl of mine!” said the 
mother, half playfully; for it was often the case that a sportive im- 
pulse came over her, in the midst of her deepest suffering. “Tell me, 
then, what thou art, and who sent thee hither.” 

“Tell me, mother!” said the child, seriously, coming up to Hester, 
and pressing herself close to her knees. “Do thou tell me!” 

“Iby Heavenly Father sent thee!” answered Hester Prynne. 

But she said it with a hesitation that did not escape the acuteness 
of the child. Whether moved only by her ordinary freakishness, or 
because an evil spirit prompted her, she put up her small forefinger, 
and touched the scarlet letter. 

“He did not send me!” cried she, positively. “I have no Heavenly 

“Hush, Pearl, hush! Thou must not talk so!” answered the mother, 
suppressing a groan. “He sent us all into this world. He sent even 
me, thy mother. Then, much more, thee! Or, if not, thou strange and 
elfish child, whence didst thou come?” 

“Tell me! Tell me!” repeated Pearl, no longer seriously, but laugh- 
ing, and capering about the floor. “It is thou that must tell me!” 

But Hester could not resolve the query, being herself in a dismal 
labyrinth of doubt. She remembered — ^bkwixt a smile and a shud- 
der — ^the talk of the neighboring townspeople; who, seeking vainly 
elsewhere for the child’s paternity, and observing some of her odd 
attributes, bad given out that poor little Pearl was a demon offspring. 



The Governor's Hall 

H ester prynne went, one day, to the mansion of Governor 
Bellingham, with a pair of giloves; which she had fringed and 
embroidered to his order, and which were to be worn on some igreat 
occasion of state; for, though the chances of a popular electioij(. had 
caused this former ruler to descend a step or two from the hij^est 
rank, he still held an honorable and influential place among the 
colonial magistracy. 

Another and far more important reason than the delivery of a 
pair of embroidered gloves impelled Hester, at this time, to seek an 
interview with a personage of so much power and activi^ in the 
affairs of the settlement. It had reached her ears, that there was a 
design on the part of some of the leading inhabitants, cherishing the 
more rigid order of principles in reli^on and government, to de- 
prive her of her child. On the supposition that Pearl, as already 
hinted, was of demon origin, these good people not unreasonably 
argued that a Christian interest in the mother’s soul required them to 
remove such a stumbling block from her path. If the child, on the 
other hand, were really capable of moral and religious growth, and 
possessed the elements of ultimate salvation, then, surely, it would 
enjoy all the fairer prospect of these advantages by being transferred 
to wiser and better guardianship than Hester Prynne’s. Among those 
who promoted the design. Governor Bellin^am was said to be one 
of the most busy. . . . 

Full of concern, therefore— but so conscious of her own ri^t that 
it seemed scarcely an unequal match between the public, on the 
one side, and a Icmely woman, backed by the sympathies of nature, on 
die other — ^Hester Prynne set forth from her solitary cottage. Little 
Pearl, of course, was her companion. She was now of an age to run 
lightly along by her mother’s side and, constantly in motion from 
mom till sunset, could have accomplished a much longer journey 
than that before her. Often, nevertheless, more from caprice than 
necessii^, she demanded to be taken up in arms; but was soon as 
imperious to be set down again, and frisked onward before Hester 
on the grassy pathway, with many a harmless trip and tumble. . . . 
There was &e in her and throughout her; she seemed the unpremed- 


The Scarlet Letter 

itated offshoot of a passionate moment. Her mother, in contriving 
the child’s garb, had allowed the gorgeous tendencies of her imagina- 
tion their full play; arraying her in a crimson velvet tunic, of a pe- 
culiar cut, abundantly embroidered with fantasies and flourishes of 
gold thread. So much strength of coloring, which must have given a 
wan and pallid aspect to cheeks of a fainter bloom, was admirably 
adapted to Pearl’s beauty, and made her the very brightest little jet 
of flame that ever danced upon the earth. 

But it was a remarkable attribute of this garb, and, indeed, of the 
child’s whole appearance, that it irresistibly and inevitably reminded 
the beholder of the token which Hester Prynne was doomed to wear 
upon her bosom. It was the scarlet letter in another form; the scal-let 
letter endowed with life! The mother herself — as if the red ignominy 
were so deeply scorched into her brain that all her conceptions as- 
sumed its form — ^had carefully wrought out the simOitude; lavishing 
many hours of morbid ingenuity, to create an analogy between the 
object of her affection and the emblem of her guilt and torture. But, 
in truth. Pearl was the one, as weU as the other; and only in conse- 
quence of that identity had Hester contrived so perfectly to represent 
the scarlet letter in her appearance. 

As the two wayfarers came within the precincts of the town, the 
children of the Puritans looked op from their play — or what passed 
for play with those somber little urchins — and spoke gravely one to 

“Behold, verily, there is the woman of the scarlet letter; and, of a 
truth, moreover, there is the likeness of the scarlet letter running 
along by her side! Come, therefore, and let us fling mud at them!” 

But Pearl, who was a daundess child, after frowning, stamping her 
foot, and shaking her litde hand with a variety of threatening ges- 
tures, suddenly made a rush at the knot of her enemies, and put them 
all to fliglht. She resembled, in her fierce pursuit of them, an infant 
pestilence — the scarlet fever, or some such half-fledged angel of 
judgment — whose mission was to punish the sins of the rising gmiera- 
tkm. She screamed and shouted, too, with a terrific volume of sound, 
which, doubdess, caused the hearts of the fugitives to quake within 
them. The victory acoMnplished, Pearl returned quietly to h^ motimr, 
and looked up, smiling, into her face. 

Without further advmtute, they reached the dwdliof of Qov- 
fficnor Bellinj^iam. ... It had, indeed, a Vmy dieery - aspect; tiie 
walls being overspread with a l^d d stucco, in whidi fra^naib of 


Nathaniel Hawthorne 
broken glass were plentifully intermixed; so that, when the sunshine 
fell aslant-wise over the front of the edifice, it glittered and sparkled 
as if diamonds had been flung against it by the double handful. . . . 

Pearl, looking at this bright wonder of a house, began to caper and 
dance, and imperatively required that the whole breadth of sun- 
shine should be stripped off its front, ,apd given her to play with. 

“No, my little Pearl!” said her mother. “Thou must gather ithine 
own sunshine. I have none to give thee!” ; 

They approached the door, which was of an arched form, and 
fianked on each side by a narrow tower or projection of the edi- 
fice, in both of which were lattice windows, with wooden shutters to 
close over them at need. Lifting the iron hammer that hung at the 
portal, Hester Prynne gave a summons, which was answered by one 
of the Governor’s bond servants; a freeborn Englishman, but now a 
seven years’ slave. During that term he was to be the property of 
his master, and as much a commodity of bargain and sale as an ox, 
or a joint-stool. The serf wore the blue coat, which was the custOjm- 
ary garb of serving men of that period, and long before, in the old 
hereditary haUs of England. 

“Is the worshipful Governor Bellingham within?” inquired Hester. 

“Yea, forsooth,” replied the bond servant, staring with wide-open 
eyes at the scarlet letter, which, being a newcomer in the country, 
he had never before seen. “Yea, his honorable worship is within. But 
he hath a godly minister or two with him, and likewise a leech. Ye 
may not see his worship now.” 

“Nevertheless, I will enter,” replied Hester Prynne, and the bond 
servant, perhaps jud^g from the decision of her air, and the glitter- 
ing symbol in her bosom, that she was a great lady in the land, of- 
fered no opposition. 

So the mother and little Pearl were admitted into the hall of en- 
trance. With many variations, suggested by the nature of his build- 
ing materials, diversity of climate, and a different mode of social 
life. Governor Bellingham had planned his new habitation after the 
rraidences of gentlemen of fair estate in his native land. Here, then, 
was a wide and reasonably lofty hall, extending through the whole 
depth of the house, and forming a medium of general communica- 
tion, more or less directly, with all the otiier apartments. 

At about the center of the oaken panels, that lined the hall, was 
suspended a suit of mail, not, like the pictures, fm ancestral relic, but 
of tile most mo<fem date; for it had been manufact ured by a ddUful 


The Scarlet Letter 

annorer in London, the same year in which Governor Bellingham 
came over to New England. There was a steel headpiece, a cuirass, 
a gorget, and greaves, with a pair of gauntlets and a sword hanging 
beneath; all, and especially the helmet and breastplate, so highly 
burnished as to glow with white radiance, and scatter an illumina- 
tion everywhere about upon the floor. This bright panoply was not 
meant for mere idle show, but had been worn by the Governor on 
many a solemn muster and training field, and had glittered, more- 
over, at the head of a regiment in the Pequot war. For, thou^ bred 
a lawyer, ... the exigencies of this new country had transformed 
Governor Bellingham into a soldier as well as a statesman and ruler. 

Little Pearl — who was as greatly pleased with the gleaming armor 
as she had been with the glittering frontispiece of the house — spent 
some time looking into the polished mirror of the breastplate. 

“Mother,” cried she, “I see you here. Look! Look!” 

Hester looked, by way of humoring the child; and she saw that, 
owing to the peculiar effect of this convex mirror, the scarlet letter 
was represented in exaggerated and gigantic proportions, so as to be 
greatly the most prominent feature of her appearance. In truth, she 
seemed absolutely hidden behind it. Pearl pointed upward, also, at 
a similar pictme in the headpiece; smiling at her mother, with the 
elfish intelligence that was so familiar an expression on her small 
physiognomy. That look of naughty merriment was likewise reflected 
in the mirror, with so much breadth and intensity of effect, that it 
made Hester Prynne feel as if it could not be the image of her own 
child, but of an imp who was seeking to mold itself into Pearl’s shape. 

“Come along. Pearl,” said she, drawing her away. “Come and look 
into this fair garden. It may be we shall see flowers there; more beau- 
tiful ones than we find in ffie woods.” 

Pearl, accordingly, ran to the bow window, at the fmther end of 
the hall, and looked along the vista of a garden walk, carpeted with 
closely shaven grass, and bordered with some rude and immature 
attempt at shrubbery. But the prc^rietor af^ared already to have 
relinquished, as hopeless, the effort to perpetuate on this side of die 
Atlantic, in a hard soil and amid the dose strug^ for subsistoice, 
the native English taste for ornamental gardening. Cabbages g^w 
in plain sight; and a pumjddn vine, rooted at some cBstance, had run 
across the intervening space, and deposited oae of its gigantic prod- 
ucts directly beneatii the hall window; as if to warn tiie Governor 
that this great lump of v^table gold was as rich an ornament as 


Nathaniel Hawthorne 
New England earth would offer him. There were a few rosebushes, 
however, and a number of apple trees, probably the descendants of 
those planted by the Reverend Mr. Blackstone, the first settler of 
the peninsula; that half-mythological personage, who rides through 
our early annals, seated on the back of a bull. 

Pearl, seeing the rosebushes, began, to cry for a red rosci, 
would not be pacified. 

“Hush, child, hush!” said her mother, earnestly. “Do not cry^^ dear 
little Pearl! I hear voices in the garden. The Governor is coftriing, 
and gentlemen along with him!” 

In fact, down the vista of the garden avenue a number of persons 
were seen approaching toward the house. Pearl, in utter scorn of her 
mother’s attempt to quiet her, gave an eldritch scream, and then 
became silent; not from any notion of obedience, but because the 
quick and mobile curiosity of her disposition was excited by the ap- 
pearance of these new personages. 


The Elf-Child and the Minister 

G overnor bellingham, in a loose gown and easy cap — such as 
elderly gentlemen loved to endue themselves with, in their do- 
mestic privacy — ^walked foremost, and appeared to be showing off 
his estate, and expatiating on his projected improvements. . . . The 
venerable pastor, John Wilson, was seen over Governor Bellingham’s 

Behind the Governor and Mr. Wilson came two other guests; one 
the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, whom the reader may remember 
as having taken a brief and reluctant part in the scene of Hester 
Prynne’s disgrace; and, in close companion^ip with him, old Roger 
Chillingworth, a person of great sl^ in physic, who, for two or 
three years past, had been settled in the town. It was understood that 
this learned man was the physician as well as friend of the young 
minister, whose health had severely suffered, of late, by his too un- 
reserved self-sacrifice to the labors and duties of the pastoral rela- 

The Governor, in advance of his visitors, ascended one or two 
idsps and, throwing open the leaves of the great hall window, found 


The Scarlet Letter 

himself close to little Pearl. The shadow of the curtain fell on Hester 
Prynne and partially concealed her. 

“What have we here?” said Governor Bellingham, looking widi 
surprise at the scarlet little figure before him. “1 profess, I have never 
seen the like, since my days of vanity, in old Kii^ James’s time, when 
I was wont to esteem it a high favor to be admitted to a court mask! 
There used to be a swarm of these small apparitions, in holiday time; 
and we called them children of the Lord of Misrule. But how got 
such a guest into my hall?” 

“Ay, indeed!” cried good old Mr. Wilson. “What Uttle bird of 
scariet plumage may this be? Methinks I have seen just such figures, 
when the sun has b^n shining through a richly painted window and 
tracing out the golden and crimson images across the. floor. But that 
was in the old land. Prithee, young one, who art thou, and what has 
ailed thy mother to bedizen Aee in this strange fashion? Art thou a 
Qiristian child — ^ha? Dost know thy catechism? Or art thou one of 
those naughty elfs or fairies, whom we thought to have left behind 
us, with other relics of Papistry, in merry old England?” 

“I am mother’s child,” answered the scarlet vision, “and my name 
is Pearl!” 

“Pearl? — ^Ruby, rather! — or Coral! — or Red Rose, at the very 
least, jud^g from thy hue!” responded the old minister, putting 
forth Ids hand in a vain attempt to pat little Pearl on the cheek. 
“But where is this mother of thine? Ah! I see,” he added; and turn* 
ing to Governor Bellingham, whispered, “This is the sel&ame child 
of whom we have held speech together; and behold here the un- 
happy woman, Hester Prynne, her mother!” 

“Sayest thou so?” cried the Governor. “Nay, we miglit have 
judged that such a child’s mother must needs be a scarlet wrunan, 
and a worthy type of her of Babylon! But she comes at a good time; 
and we will look into this matter forthwith.” 

Governor Bellingham stepped through the window info the haU, 
followed by his three guests. 

“Hester Prynne,” said he, fixing his naturally stem regard on the 
wearer of the scarlet letter, “there hath been much question con- 
cerning thee, of late. The point hath been weightily discussed, 
whether we, that are of audfori^ and influence, do well disdiarge 
our consdmces by tmsthig an immortal sold, such as there is in yon- 
der child, to tlm guidance d one who hath stumbled and falkn, amid 


Nathaniel Hawthorne 
the pitfalls of this world. Speak thou, the child’s own mother! Were 
it not, thinkest thou, for thy little one’s temporal and eternal welfare 
that she be taken out of thy charge, and clad soberly and disciplined 
strictly and instructed in the truths of heaven and earth? What canst 
thou do for the child, in this kind?” 

“I can teach my little Pearl whatl*have learned from this,!” an- 
swered Hester Piynne, laying her finger on the red token. 

“Woman, it is thy badge of shame!” replied the stem ma^trate. 
“It is because of the stain which that letter indicates, that we would 
transfer thy child to other hands.” 

“Nevertheless,” said the mother, calmly, though growing more 
pale, “this badge hath taught me — it daily teaches me — ^it is teach- 
ing me at this moment — ^lessons whereof my child may be the wiser 
and better albeit they can profit nothing to myself.” 

“We will judge warily,” said Bellingham, “and look well what we 
are about to do. Good Master Wilson, I pray you, examine this 
Pearl — since that is her name — and see whether she hadi had ^uch 
Christian nurture as befits a child of her age.” 

The old minister seated himself in an armchair, and made an effort 
to draw Pearl betwixt his knees. But the child, unaccustomed to the 
touch of familiarity of any but her mother, escaped through the 
open window, and stood on the upper step looking like a wild tropi- 
cal bird, of rich plumage, ready to take flight into the upper air. Mr. 
Wilson, not a little astonished at this outbreak — ^for he was a grand- 
fatherly sort of personage, and usually a vast favorite with children 
— essayed, however, to proceed with the examination. 

“Pearl,” said he, with great solemnity, “thou must take heed to 
instruction, that so, in due season, thou mayest wear in thy bosom 
the pearl of great price. Canst thou tell me, my child, who made 

Now Pearl knew well enough who madd her; for Hester Prynne, 
the daughter of a pious home, very soon after her talk with the 
child about her Heavenly Father, had begun to inform her of those 
truths which the human spirit, at whatever stage of immaturity, im- 
bibes with such eager interest. Pearl, therefore, so large were the 
attainments of her three years’ lifetime, could have borne a fair ex- 
amination in the New England Primer, or the first column of the 
Westminster Catechisms, although unacquainted with the outward 
form of either of those celebrated works. But that perversity which 
all children have more or less of, and of which little Pearl had a ten- 


The Scarlet Letter 

fold portion, now, at the most inopportune moment, took thorou^ 
possession of her, and closed her lips, or impelled her to speak words 
amiss. After patting her finger in her mouth, with many ungracious 
refusals to answer good Mr. Wilson’s questions, the child finally an- 
nounced that she had not been made at all, but had been plucked by 
her mother off the bush of wild roses that grew by the prison door. 

This fantasy was probably suggested by Ae near proximity of the 
Governor’s red roses, as Pearl stood outside of the window; together 
with her recollection of the prison rosebush, which she had passed 
in coming hither. 

Old Roger Chillingworth, with a smile on his face, whispered 
something in the young clergyman’s ear. Hester Pryime looked at 
the man of skill, and even then, with her fate hanging in the balance, 
was startled to perceive what a change had come over his features — 
how much uglier they were — ^how Us dark complexion seemed to 
have grown duskier, and his figure more misshapen — since the days 
when she had familiarly known him. She met his eyes for an instant, 
but was immediately constrained to give all her attention to the 
scene now going forward. 

“This is awful!” cried the Governor, slowly recovering from the 
astonishment into which Pearl’s response had thrown him. “Here is 
a child of three years old, and she cannot tell who made her! With- 
out question, she is equally in the dark as to her soul, its present 
depravity, and future destiny! Methioks, gentlemen, we need in- 
quire no further.” 

Hester caught hold of Pearl, and drew her forcibly into her arms, 
confronting the old Puritan magistrate with almost a fierce expres- 
sion. Alone in the world, cast off by it, and with this sole treasure to 
keep her heart alive, she felt that she possessed indefeasible rights 
against the world, and was ready to defend them to the- death. 

“God gave me the diild!” cried she. “He gave her in requital of 
all things else, which ye had taken from me. She is my happiness! — 
she is my torture, none the less! Pearl keeps me here in Iffe! Pead 
punishes me too! See ye not, she is the scarlet letter, only capable ci 
being loved, and so endowed with a millionfold the power d retribo- 
tim for my sin? Ye shall not take her! I will die first!” 

“My potn: woman,” said the not unkind old minister, “the 
shall be well cared for!— far better fftan thou canst do it,* 

‘tSod gave her iiffo my keeping,” repeated Hestor i^ynpe, raising 
bo: voice almost to a shridt “I will not ^ve her up!”— And hi^ 


Nathaniel Hawthorne 
a sudden impulse, she turned to the yotmg clergyman, Mr. Dimmes- 
dale, at whom, up to this moment, she had seemed hardly so much 
as once to direct her eyes. — “Speak thou for mel” cried she. “Thou 
wast my pastor, and hadst charge of my soul, and knowest me 
better than these men can. I will not lose the child! Speak for mel 
Thou knowest — ^for thou hast sympa.thies which these men lack! — 
thou knowest what is in my heart, and what are a mother’ll rights, 
and how much the stronger they are, when that mother has but her 
child and the scarlet letter! Look thou to it! I will not lose th^ child! 
Look to it!” 

At this wild and singular appeal, which indicated that Hester 
Prynne’s situation had provoked her to little less than madness, the 
young minister at once came forward, pale, and holding his hand 
over his heart, as was his custom whenever his peculiarly nervous 
temperament was thrown into agitation. He looked now more care- 
worn and emaciated than as we described him at the scene of Hes- 
ter’s public ignominy; and whether it were his failing health, or what- 
ever the cause might be, his large dark eyes had a world of psiin in 
their troubled and melancholy depth. 

“There is truth in what she says,” began the minister, with a voice 
sweet, tremulous, but powerful, insomuch that the hall re-echoed, 
and the hollow armor rang with it — “truth in what Hester says, and 
in the feeling which inspires her! God gave her the child, and gave 
her, too, an instinctive knowledge of its nature and requirements — 
both seemingly so peculiar — ^which no other mortal being can pos- 
sess. And, moreover, is there not a quality of awful sacredness in the 
relation between this mother and this child?” 

“Ay! — ^how is that, good Master Dimmesdale?” interrupted the 
Governor. “Make that plain, I pray you!” 

“It must be even so,” resumed the minister. “For, if we deem it 
otherwise, do we not thereby say that the Heavenly Father, the Cre- 
ator of aU flesh, hath lightly recognized a deed of sin, and made of 
no account the distinction between unhallowed lust and holy love? 
This child of its father’s guilt and its mother’s shame hath come from 
the hand of God, to work in many ways upon her heart, who pleads 
so earnestly, and with such bitterness oi spirit, the right to keep her. 
It was meant for a blessing, for the oim blessing of her life! It was 
meant, doubtless, as the mother herself hath told us, for a retribution 
too; a torture to be fdt at many an unthou^t-fri mommit; a pang, a 
tthig, an ever-recurring agony, in the midst of a troubled joyl Hath 


The Scarlet Letter 

she not expressed this thougjht in the garb of the poor child, so fotd> 
bly reminding us of that red symbol which sears her bosom?” 

“Well said again!” cried good Mr. Wilson. “I feared the wcnnan 
had no better thought than to make a mountebank of her child!” 

“Oh, not so! — ^not so!” continued Mr. Dimmesdale. “She recog- 
nizes, believe me, the solemn miracle which God hath wrought, in 
the existence of that child. And may she feel, too — ^what, methinks, 
is the very truth — that this boon was meant, above all things else, 
to keep the mother’s soul alive, and to preserve her from blacker 
depths of sin into which Satan might else have sought to plunge her! 
Therefore it is good for this poor, sinful woman that she hath an in- 
fant immortality, a being capable of eternal joy or sorrow, confided 
to her care — ^to be trained up by her to righteousness — to remind 
her, at every moment, of her fall — but yet to teach her, as it were by 
the Creator’s sacred pledge, that, if she bring the child to heaven, the 
child also will bring its parent thither! Herein is the sinful mother 
happier than the sinful father. For Hester Prynne’s sake, then, and 
no less for the poor child’s sake, let us leave them as Providence 
hath seen fit to place them!” 

“You speak, my friend, with a strange earnestness,” said old Roger 
Chillingworth, smiling at him. 

“And there is a weighty import in what my young brother hath 
spoken,” added the Reverend Mr. Wilson. “What say you, worship- 
ful Master Bellin^am? Hath he not pleaded weU for the poor 

“Indeed hath he,” answered the magistrate, “and hath adduced 
such arguments, that we will even leave the matter as it now stands; 
so long, at least, as there shall be no further scandal in the woman. 
Care must be had, nevertheless, to put the child to due and stated 
examination in the catechism, at thy hands or Master Dimmes- 
dale’s. Moreover, at a proper season, the tithingmen must take heed 
that she go both to school mid to meeting.” 

The young minister, on ceasing to speak, had withdrawn a few 
steps frmn die ^oup, and stood with his face partially concealed in 
the heavy folds of the window curtains; while the shadow d! his fig- 
ure, which the sunli^t cast upon the floor, was tremulous with, the 
vehemence of his appeal. Pearl, that wild and flighty little elf, stole 
softly toward him, and taking his hand in the grasp of both her oum, 
laid her cheek against it; a caress so tendm*, and withal so uncfl^ra- 
sive, that her mother, who was lookmg on, asked hersdfl — “h that 


Nathaniel Hawthorne 
my Pearl?” Yet she knew that there was love in the child’s heart, 
although it mostly revealed itself in passion, and hardly twice in her 
lifetime had been softened by such gentleness as now. The minister 
— ^for, save the long-sought regards of woman, nothing is sweeter 
than these marks of childish preference, accorded spontaneously by 
a spiritual instinct, and therefore seeming to imply in us soipething 
truly worthy to be loved — ^the minister looked round, laid hfk hand 
on the child’s head, hesitated an instant, and then kissed her^row. 
Little Pearl’s unwonted mood of sentiment lasted no longer; she 
laughed, and went capering down the hall, so airily, that old Mr. 
Wilson raised a question whether even her tiptoes touched the floor. 

“The little baggage hath witchcraft in her, I profess,” said he to 
Mr. Dimmesdale. “She needs no old woman’s broomstick to fly 

“A strange child!” remarked old Roger Chillingworth. “It is easy 
to see the mother’s part in her. Would it be beyond a philosopher’s 
research, think ye, gentlemen, to analyze that child’s nature, wd, 
from its make and mold, to give a shrewd guess at the father?” 

“Nay; it would be sinful, in such a question, to follow the clew of 
profane philosophy,” said Mr. Wilson. “Better to fast and pray upon 
it; and still better, it may be, to leave the mystery as we find it, unless 
Providence reveal it of its own accord. Thereby, every good Chris- 
tian man hath a title to show a father’s kindness toward the poor, de- 
serted babe.” 

The affair being so satisfactorily concluded, Hester Prynne, with 
Pearl, departed from the house. As they descended the steps, it is 
averred that the lattice of a chamber window was thrown open, and 
forth into the sunny day was thrust the face of Mistress Hibbins, 
Governor Bellingham’s bitter-tempered sister, and ffie same who, a 
few years later, was executed as a witch. 

“Hist, hist!” said she, while her ill-omened physiognomy seemed 
to cast a shadow over the cheerful newness of Ae house. “Wilt thou 
go with us tonight? There will be a merry company in the forest; and 
I wellni^ promised the Black Man that comely Hester Prynne 
should make one.” 

“Make my excuse to him, so please you!” answered Hester, with 
a triumphant smile. “I must tarry at home, and keep watch over my 
little Pearl. Had they taken her from me, I woiffd willingly have 
gone with thee into the forest, and signed my n*"** in the Black 
Man’s book too, and that with mine own bloodl” 


The Scarlet Letter 

“We shall have thee there anon!” said the vdtch lady, frowning, 
as she drew back her head. 

Bat here — ^if we suppose this interview betwixt Mistress Hibbins 
and Hester Ptynne to be authentic, and not a parable — ^was already 
an illustration of the young minister’s argument against sundering 
the relation of a fallen mother to the offspring of her frailty. Even 
thus early had the child saved her from Satan’s snare. 

The Leech 

U NDER THE APPELLATION of Roger Chillingwoith, the reader 
will remember, was hidden another name, which its former 
wearer had resolved should never more be spoken. It has been re- 
lated how, in the crowd that witnessed Hester Pryime’s ignominious 
exposure, stood a man, elderly, travel-worn, who, just emerging 
from the perilous wilderness, beheld the woman, in whom he hoped 
to find embodied the warmth and cheerfulness of home, set up as a 
type of sin before the people. Her matronly fame was trodden under 
men’s feet. Infamy was babbling around her in the public market 
place. For her kindred, should the tidings ever reach them, and for 
the companions of her unspotted life, there remained nothing but 
the contagion of her dishonor — which would not fail to be distributed 
in strict accordance and proportion with the intimacy and sacredness 
of their previous relationship. Then why — since the choice was with 
himself — ^should the individual, whose connection with the fallen 
woman had been the most intimate and sacred of them all, come for- 
ward to vindicate his claim to an inheritance so little desirable? He 
resolved not to be pilloried beside her on her pedestal of shame. Un- 
known to all but Hester Prynne, and possessing the lock and key of 
her silence, be chose to withdraw his name from the roll of mankind, 
and, as regarded his former ties and interests, to vanish out of life as 
completely as if he indeed lay at the bottom of the ocean, whither 
rumor had long ago consigned him. This purpose once effected, new 
interests would immediately spring up, and likewise a new purpose; 
dark, it is true, if not guil^, but (A force enougjh to engage the friS 
strength of his faculties. 

In pursuance of ffiis resdive, be todc up his mldence in the Puri- 
tan town, as Roger CSullingwortb, without other introdnctkm rium 


Nathaniel Hawthorne 
the tftaining and intelligence of which he possessed more than a 
common measure. As his studies, at a previous period of his life, had 
made him extensively acquainted wiUi the medical science of the 
day, it was as a physician that he presented himself, and as such was 
cordially receiv^. ... He soon manifested his familiarity with 
the ponderous and imposing machinery of antique physic; in which 
every remedy contained a multitude of far-fetched and heterogene- 
ous ingredients, as elaborately compounded as if the proposed re- 
sult had been the Elixir of Life. In his Indian captivity, moreover, he 
had gained much knowledge of the properties of native herbs and 
roots; nor did he conceal from his patients, that these shnple medi- 
cines, Nature’s boon to the untutored savage, had quite as large a 
share of his own confidence as the European pharmacopoeia, which 
so many learned doctors had spent centuries in elaborating. 

This learned stranger was exemplary, as regarded, at least, the 
outward forms of a religious life, and, early after his arrival, had 
chosen for his spiritual guide the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale. The 
young divine, whose scholar-like renown still lived in Oxford, was 
considered by his more fervent admirers as little less than a heaven- 
ordained apostle, destined, should he live and labor for the ordinary 
term of life, to do as great deeds for the now feeble New England 
Church as the early Fathers had achieved for the infancy of the 
Christian faith. About this period, however, the health of Mr. Dim- 
mesdale had evidently begun to fail. By those best acquainted with 
his habits, the paleness of the young minister’s cheek was accounted 
for by his too earnest devotion to study, his scrupulous fulfillment of 
parochial dut}', and, more than all, 1^ the fasts and vigils of which 
he made a frequent practice, in order to keep the grossness of this 
earthly state from clogging and obscuring his spiritual lamp. Some 
declared, that, if Mr. Dimmesdale were really going to die, it was 
cause enough, that the world was not worthy to be any longer trod- 
den by his feet. He himself, on the other hand, with characteristic hu- 
mility, avowed his belief, that, if Providence should see fit to remove 
him, it would be because of his own unworthiness to perform its hum- 
blest mission here on earth. With all this difference of t^nnion as to the 
cause of his decline, ffiere could be no ques&m of the fact. His form 
grew emadated; his voice, though still rich and sweet, had a certain 
melancholy prophecy of decay in it; he was often observed, on 
any slight alarm or offier sudden accident, to put bis hand over 
hk heart, with first a flush and fften a pateiess, indicative of paiti:~~ 


The Scarlet Letter 

Such was the young dergyman’s condition, and so imminent the 
prospect that his dawning light would be extinguished, all untimely, 
when Roger Oiillingworth made his advent to the town. His first 
entry on the scene, few people could tell whence, dropping down, as 
it were, out of the sky, or starting from the nether earft, had an as- 
pect of mystery, which was easily heightened to the miraculous. A 
rumor gained ground — and, however absurd, was entertained by 
some very sensible people — ^that Heaven had wrought an absolute 
miracle, by transporting an eminent Doctor of Physic, from a Ger- 
man university, bodily througih the air, and setting him down at the 
door of Mr. Dimmesdale’s study! Individuals of wiser faith, indeed, 
who knew that Heaven promotes its purposes without aiming at ’the 
stage effect of what is called miraculous interposition, were inclined 
to see a providential hand in Roger Chillingworth’s so opportune 

The idea was countenanced by the strong interest whidi the physi- 
cian ever manifested in the young clergyman; he attached himself to 
him as a parishioner, and sought to win a friendly regard and confi- 
dence from his naturally reserved sensibility. . . . 

The mysterious old Roger Chillingworth became the medical ad- 
viser of the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale. As not only the disease in- 
terested the physician, but he was strongly moved to look into the 
character and qualities of the patient, these two men, so different in 
age, came gradually to spend much time together. For the sake of the 
minister's health, and to enable the leech to gather plants with heal- 
ing balm in them, they took long walks on the seashore, or in the 
forest; mingling various talk with the plash and murmur of the waves, 
and the solemn wind-anthem among the treetops. Often, likewise, 
one was the guest of the other, in his place of study and retirement 
There was a fascination for the minister in the company of the man 
of science, in whom he recognized an intellectual cultivation of no 
moderate d^th or scope; together with a range and freedom <A 
ideas that he would have vainly looked for among the members of 
his own profession. In truth, he was startled, if not shocked, to find 
this attribute in the physician. Mr. Dinunesdale was a true priest, 
a true religionist, vrith the reverential sentiment lar^ly devdoped, 
and an order of mind that impelled ^If powerfully along the trade 
of a creed, and wore its passage ccmtinually (teeper with the h^se 
of time. In no state d sodei^ would he have been what is caUed t 
man of liberal views; it would dways be es^tial to his peace to feed 


Nathaniel Hawthorne 
the pressure of a faith about him, supporting, while it confined him 
within its iron framework. . . . 

Time went on; a kind of intimacy, as we have said, grew up be- 
tween diese two cultivated minds, which had as wide a field as the 
whole sphere of human thought and study, to meet upon; they dis- 
cussed every topic of ethics and religion, of public affairs and private 
character; ^ey talked much, on both sides, of matters that seemed 
personal to themselves; and yet no secret, such as the physicia^ fan- 
cied must exist there, ever stole out of the minister’s consciotfsness 
into his companion’s ear. The latter had his suspicions, indeed, that 
even the nature of Mr. Dimmesdale’s bodily disease had never fairly 
been revealed to him. It was a strange reserve! 

After a time, at a hint from Roger Chillingworth, the friends of 
Mr. Dimmesdale effected an arrangement by which the two were 
lodged in the same house; so that every ebb and flow of the minis- 
ter’s life-tide might pass under the eye of his anxious and attached 
physician. There was much joy throughout the town when this greatly 
desirable object was attained. It was held to be the best possible 
measure for the young clergyman’s welfare; unless, indeed, as often 
urged by such as felt authorized to do so, he had selected some one 
of the many blooming damsels, spiritually devoted to him, to become 
his devoted wife. This latter step, however, there was no present 
prospect that Arthur Dimmesdale would be prevailed upon to take; 
he rejected all suggestions of the kind, as if priestly celibacy were 
one of his articles of church discipline. Doomed by his own choice, 
therefore, as Mr. Dimmesdale so evidently was, to eat his unsavory 
morsel always at another’s board, and endure the lifelong chill 
which must be his lot who seeks to warm himself only at another’s 
fireside, it truly seemed that this sagacious, experienced, benevolent 
old physician, with his concord of paternal and reverential love for 
the young pastor, was the very man of all mankind to be constantly 
within reach of his voice. 

The new abode of the two friends was with a pious, widow, of 
good social rank, who dwelt in a house covering pretty nearly the 
site on which the venerable structure of King’s Chapel has since been 
built, it had the graveyard, orig^ally Isaac Johnson’s home-field, on 
one side, and so was weU adapted to call up serious reflections, suited 
to their respective employments, in both minister and man of physic. 
The motherly care of the good widow assigned to Mr. Dimmesdale 
a front apartment with a sunny exposure, and heavy window cur- 


The Scarlet Letter 

tains, to create a noontide shadow, when desirable. The walls were 
hung round with tapestry, said to be from the Gobelin looms, and at 
aU events, representing the Scriptural story of David and Bathsheba, 
and Nathan the Prophet, in colors still unfaded, but which made the 
fair woman of the scene almost as grimly picturesque as the woe> 
denouncing seer. Here, the pale clergyman piled up his library, rich 
with parchment-bound folios of the Fathers, and t^ lore of Rabbis, 
and monkish erudition, of which the Protestant divines, even while 
they vilified and decried that class of writers, were yet constrained 
often to avail themselves. On the other side of the house, old Roger 
Chillingworth arranged his study and laboratory; not such as a mod- 
ern man of science would reckon even tolerably complete, but pro- 
vided with a distilling apparatus, and the means of compounding 
drugs and chemicals, which the practiced alchemist knew well how 
to turn to purpose. With such commodiousness of situation, these 
two learned persons sat themselves down, each in his own domain, 
yet familiarly passing from one apartment to the other, and bestow- 
ing a mutual and not incurious inspection into one another’s business. 

And the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale’s best discerning friends, 
as we have intimated, very reasonably imagined that the hand of 
Providence had done all this, for the purpose — ^besought in so many 
public and domestic and secret prayers — of restoring the young min- 
ister to health. But — it must now be said — another portion of the 
community had latterly begun to take its own view of the relation 
betwixt Mr. Dimmesdde and the mysterious old physician. When an 
uninstructed multitude attempts to see with its eyes, it is exceedin^y 
apt to be deceived. When, however, it forms its judgment, as it usu- 
ally does, on the intuitions of its great and warm heart, the conclu- 
sions thus attained are often so profound and so unerring, as to pos- 
sess the character of truths supematurally revealed. . . 

A large number — and many of these were persons of such sober 
sense and practical observation that their opinions would have been 
valuable in other matters — affirmed that Roger Chillingworth’s as- 
pect had under^ne a remarkable change while he had dwelt in town, 
and especially since his abode with Mr. Dimmesdale. At first his ex- 
pression had been calm, meditadve, scholar-like. Now, there was 
something ugly and evil in his face, which they had not prevbudy 
noticed, and which grew still the more obvious to si^t the oftmer 
they looked upon him. According to the vulgar idea, the. fire in h^ 
laboratory had been brougiit from the lower regions, and was fed 


Nathaniel Hawthorne 
with infernal fuel; and so, as might be expected, his visage was get- 
ting sooty with the smoke. 

To sum up the matter, it grew to be a widely diffused opinion, that 
the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, like many other personages of 
especial sanctity, in all ages of the Christian world, was haunted 
either by Satan himself, or Satan’s emissary, in the guise of old 
Roger Chillingworth. This diabolical agent had the Divine permis- 
sion, for a season, to burrow into the clergyman’s intimacy and plot 
against his soul. No sensible man, it was confessed, could doubt on 
which side the victory would turn. The people looked, with an un- 
shaken hope, to see the minister come forth out of the conflict trans- 
figured with the glory which he would unquestionably win. Mean- 
while, nevertheless, it was sad to think of the perchance mortal 
agony through which he must struggle toward his triumph. 

Alas! to judge from the gloom and terror in the depths of the poor 
minister’s eyes, the battle was a sore one, and the victory any&ing 
but secure. 


The Leech and His Patient 

O LD ROGER CHILLINGWORTH, throughout life, had been calm in 
temperament, kindly, though not of warm affections, but ever, 
and in all his relations with the world, a pure and uprig|ht man. He 
had begun an investigation, as he imagined, with the severe and 
equal integrity of a judge, desirous only of truth, even as if the ques- 
tion involved no more than the air-drawn lines and figures of a geo- 
metrical problem, instead of human passions, and wrongs inflicted on 
himself. But, as he proceeded, a terrible fascination, a kind of fierce, 
though still calm, necessity seized the old man within its gripe, and 
never set him free again until he had done all its bidding. He now 
dug into the poor clergyman’s heart, like a miner searching for gold; 
or rather, like a sexton delving into a grave, possibly in quest of a 
jewel that had been buried on the dead man’s bosom, but likely to 
find nothing save mortality and corruption. Alas for his own soul, if 
these were what he sought! 

Sometimes a lig^t glimmered out of the physician’s eyes, burning 
blue and ominous like the reflection a furnace . . . The sofl 


The Scarlet Letter 

where this dark miner was working had perchance shown indica-. 
tions that encouraged him. 

“This man,” said he, at one such moment, to himself, “pure as 
th^ deem him — all spiritual as he seems — ^hath inherited a strong 
animal nature from his father or his mother. Let us dig a little further 
in the direction of this vein!” 

... He groped along as stealthily, with as cautious a tread, and 
as wary an outlook, as a thief entering a chamber where a man lies 
only half asleep — or, it may be, broad awake — with purpose to steal 
the very treasure which this man guards as the apple of his eye. In 
spite of his premeditated carefulness, the floor would now and then 
creak; his garments would rustle; the shadow of his presence, in a 
forbidden proximity, would be thrown across his victim. In other 
words, Mr. Dimmesdale, whose sensibility of nerve often produced 
the effect of spiritual intuition, would become vaguely aware that 
something inimical to his peace had thrust itself into relation with 
him. But old Roger Chillingworth, too, had perceptions that were al- 
most intuitive; and when the minister threw his startled eyes toward 
him, there the physician sat; his kind, watchful sympathizing, but 
never intrusive friend. . . . 

One day, leaning his forehead on his hand, and his elbow on the 
sill of the open window, that looked toward the graveyard, he talked 
with Roger Chillingworth, while the old man was examining a bundle 
of unsightly plants. 

“Where,” asked he, with a look askance at them — ^for it was the 
clergyman's peculiarity that he seldom, nowadays, looked straight- 
forth at any object, whether human or inanimate — “Where, my 
kind doctor, did you gather those herbs, with such a dark, flabby 

“Even in the graveyard here at hand,” answered the physician 
continuing his employment. “They are new to me. I found them 
growing on a grave, which bore no tombstone, nor other memorial of 
the dead man, save these ugly weeds, that have taken upon them- 
selves to keep him in remembrance. They grew out of his heart, and 
typify, it may be, some hideous secret that was buried with him, and 
which he had done better to confess during his lifetime.” 

“Perchance,” said Mr. Dimmesdale, “he earnestly desired it, Imt 
could not.” 

“And wherefore?” rejoined the physician, “Wherefore not; since 


Nathaniel Hawthorne 

an the powers of nature caU so earnestly for the confession of sin, 
that these black weeds have sprung ujp out of a buried heart, to make 
manifest an unspoken crime?” 

“That, good Sir, is but a fantasy of yours,” replied the minister. 
“There can be, if I forebode aright, no power, short of the Divine 
mercy, to disclose, whether by uttered words, or by type or emblem, 
the secrets that may be buried with a human heart. The heart, mak- 
ing itself guilty of such secrets, must perforce hold them, until the 
day when aU Mdden things shaU be revealed. Nor have I so read or 
interpreted Holy Writ, as to understand that the disclosure of human 
thoughts and deeds, then to be made, is intended as a part of the ret- 
ribution. That, surely, were a shallow view of it. No; these revela- 
tions, unless I greatly err, are meant merely to promote the intellec- 
tual satisfaction of all intelligent beings, who will stand waiting, on 
that day, to see the dark problem of this life made plain. A knowl- 
edge of men’s hearts will be needful to the completest solution of 
that problem. And I conceive, moreover, that the hearts holding such 
miserable secrets as you speak of will yield them up, at that last day, 
not with reluctance, but with a joy unutterable.” 

“Then why not reveal them here?” asked Roger Chillingworth, 
^ncing quietly aside at the minister. “Why should not the guilty ones 
sooner avail themselves of this unutterable solace?” 

“They mostly do,” said the clergyman, gripping hard at his breast 
as if afficted with an importunate throb of pain. “Many, many a 
poor soul hath given its confidence to me, not only on the deathbed, 
but while strong in life, and fair in reputation. And ever, after such 
an outpouring, oh, what a relief have I witnessed in those sinful 
brethren! even as in one who at last draws free air, after long stifling 
with his own polluted breath. How can it be otherwise? Why should 
a wretched man, guilty, we will say, of murder, prefer to keep the 
dead corpse buried in his own heart, rather than fling it forth at once, 
and let the universe take care of it!” 

“Yet some men bury their secrets thus,” observed the calm phy- 

“True; there are such men,” answered Mr. Dimmesdale. “But, 
not to suggest more obvious reasons, it may be that they are kept 
silent by the very constitution of their nature. Or — can we not sup- 
pose it? — guii^ as they may be, retaining, nevertheless, a zeal for 
God’s gjory and man’s welfare, they shrink from displaying them- 
sdves Mack and filthy in the view of men; because, thenceforward, 


The Scarlet Letter 

no good can be achieved by them; no evil of the past be redeemed 
by better service. So, to their own unutterable torment, they go about 
among their fellow creatures, looking pure as new-faUen snow while 
their hearts are all speckled and spotted with iniquity of which they 
cannot rid themselves.” 

‘These men deceive themselves,” said Rogpr Chillingworth, with 
somewhat more emphasis than usual, and making a sli^t gesture 
with his forefinger. “They fear to take up the shame that rightfully 
belongs to them. Their love for man, their zeal for God’s service — 
these holy impulses may or may not coexist in their hearts with the 
evil inmates to which dieir guilt has unbarred the door, and which 
must needs propagate a hellish breed within them. But, if they seek 
to glorify God, let them not lift heavenward their imclean hands! If 
they would serve their fellow men, let them do it by making manifest 
the power and reality of conscience, in constraining them to peniten- 
tial self-abasement! Wouldst thou have me to believe, O wise and 
pious friend, that a false show can be better — can be more for God’s 
glory, or man’s welfare — ^than God’s own truth? Trust me, such men 
deceive themselves!” 

“It may be so,” said the young clergyman, indifferently, as waiv- 
ing a discussion that he considered irrelevant or unreasonable. He 
had a ready faculty, indeed, of escaping from any topic that a^tated 
his too sensitive and nervous temperament. “But, now, I would ask of 
my weU-skilled physician, whether, in good sooth, he deems me to 
have profited by his kindly care of this weak frame of mine?” 

Before Roger Chillingworth could answer, they heard the clear, 
wild laughter of a young child’s voice, proceeding from the adjacent 
burial ground. Looking instinctively from the open window — ^for it 
was summertime — ^the minister beheld Hester Prynne and little 
Pearl passing along the footpath that traversed the enclosure. Pearl 
looked as beautiful as the day, but was in one of those moods of per- 
verse merriment which, whenever they occurred, seemed to remove 
her entirely out of the sphere of sympathy or human contact. She 
now skipped irreverently from one grave to another; rmtil, coming to 
die broa^ fiat, armorial tombstone of a departed worthy — ^perhaps 
of Isaac Johnson himself — she began to dance upon it In reply to 
her mother’s command and entreaty that she would behave more 
decorously, little Peaii paused to ga^r the prickly burrs from a tall 
burdock which grew beside the tomb. Taking a handful of these, she 
arranged them along the lines of the scarlet letter diat decorated fire 


Nathaniel Hawthorne 
maternal bosom, to which the burrs, as their nature was, tenaciously 
adhered. Hester did not pluck them off. 

Roger Chillingworth had by this time approached the window, 
and smiled grimly down. 

“There is no law, nor reverence for authority, no regard for hu- 
man ordinances or opinions, right or wrong, mixed up with that 
child’s composition,” remarked he, as much to himself as to his com- 
panion. “I saw her, the other day, bespatter ,^ie Governor himself 
with water, at the cattle-trough in Spring Lane. What, in Heaven’s 
name, is she? Is the imp altogether evil? Hath she affections? Hath 
she any discoverable principle of being?” 

“None — save the freedom of a broken law,” answered Mr. Dim- 
mesdale, in a quiet way, as if he had been discussing the point within 
himself. “Whether capable of good, I know not.” 

The child probably overheard their voices; for, looking up to the 
window, with a bright, but naughty smile of mirth and intelligence, 
she threw one of the prickly burrs at the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale. 
The sensitive clergyman shrunk, with nervous dread, from the light 
missile. Detecting his emotion. Pearl clapped her little hands in the 
most extravagant ecstasy. Hester Prynne, likewise, had involuntarily 
looked up; and all these four persons, old and young, regarded one 
another in silence, till the child laughed aloud; and shouted — ^“Come 
away, mother! Come away, or yonder old Black Man will catch 
you! He hath got hold of the minister already. Come away, mother, 
or he will catch you! But he cannot catch little Pearl!” 

So she drew her mother away, skipping, dancing and frisking fan- 
tastically, among the hillocks of the dead people, like a creature that 
had nothing in common with a bygone and buried generation, nor 
owned herself akin to it. It was as if she had been made afresh, out 
of new elements, and must perforce be permitted to live her own life 
and be a law unto herself, without her eccentricities being reckoned 
to her for a crime. 

“There goes a woman,” resumed Roger Chillingworth, after a 
pause, “who, be her demerits what they may, hath none of that mys- 
tery of hiding sinfulness which you deem so grievous to be borne. Is 
Hester Prynne the less miserable, think you, for that scarlet letter on' 
her breast?” 

“I do verily believe it,” answered the clergyman. “Neverthdess I 
cannot answer for her. liiere was a look of pain in her face, which I 
would gladly have been spared the sight of. But still, methinks, ft 
must needs be better for the sufferer to be free to show his pain, as 


The Scarlet Letter 

this poor woman Hester is, than to cover it all up in his heart.” 

There was another pause; and the physician began anew to ex- 
amine and arrange the plants which he had gathered. 

“You inquired of me, a little time agone,” said he, at length, “my 
judgment as touching your health.” 

“I did,” answered the clergyman, “and would gladly learn it. 
Speak frankly, I pray you, be it for life or death.” 

“Freely, then, and plainly,” said the physician, still busy with his 
plants, but keeping a wary eye on Mr. Dimmesdale, “the disorder is 
a strange one; not so much in itself, nor as outwardly manifested — 
in so far, at least, as the symptoms have been laid open to my ob- 
servation. Looking daily at you, my good Sir, and watching the to- 
kens of your aspect, now for months gone by, I should deem you a 
man sore sick, it may be, yet not so sick but that an instructed and 
watchful physician might well hope to cure you. But — know not 
what to say — the disease is what I seem to know, yet know it not.” 

“You speak in riddles, learned Sir,” said the pale minister, gjlanc- 
ing aside out of the window. 

“Then to speak more plainly,” continued the physician, “and I 
crave pardon. Sir — ^should it seem to require pardon — ^for this need- 
ful plainness of my speech. Let me ask-^as your friend — as one 
having charge, imder Providence, of your life and physical well- 
being — ^hath all the operation of this disorder been fairly laid open 
and recounted to me?” 

“How can you question it?” asked the minister. “Surely, it were 
child’s play to call in a physician, and then hide the sore!” 

“You woxdd tell me, then, that I know all?” said Roger Chilling- 
worth, deliberately, and fixing an eye, bright with intense and ccm- 
centrated intelligence, on the minister’s face. “Be it so! But, again! 
He to whom only the outward and physical evil is laid open, know- 
eth, oftentimes, but half the evil which he is called upon to core. A 
bodily disease, which we look upon as whole and entire within itself, 
may, after all, be but a symptom of some ailment in die spiritual 
part. Your pardon, once again, good Sir, if my speech give the 
shadow of offense. You, Sir, of all men whom I have known, are he 
whose body is the closest conjoined, and imbued, and identified, so 
to speak, with the spirit whereof it is the instrument.” 

“Then I need ask no further,” said the dergyman, somewhat hast- 
ily rising from his chair. “You deal not, I take it, in medicine for the 

“Thus, a sickness,” continued Roger Chillingworth, going on, in 


Nathaniel Hawthorne 

an unaltered tone, without heeding the interruption — but standing 
up, and confronting the emaciated and white-cheeked minister, with 
his low, dark and misshapen figure — “a sickness, a sore place, if we 
may so call it, in your spirit, hath immediately its appropriate mani- 
festation in your bodily frame. Would you, therefore, that your 
physician he^ the bodily evil? How may ^is be, unless you first lay 
open to him the wound or trouble in your soul?” 

“No! — not to thee! — not to an earthly physiclM!” cried Mr. Dim- 
mesdale, passionately, and turning his eyes, full and bright and with 
a kind of fierceness, on old Roger Chillingworth. “Not to thee! But, 
if it be the soul’s disease, then do I commit myself to the one Physi- 
cian of the soul! He, if it stand with His good pleasure, can cure; or 
He can kill! Let Him do with me as, in His justice and wisdom. He 
shall see good. But who art thou, that meddlest in this matter? — ^that 
dares thrust himself between the sufferer and his God?” 

With a frantic gesture he rushed out of the room. 

“It is as well to have made this step,” said Roger Chillingworth to 
himself, looking after the minister with a grave smile. “There is 
nothing lost. We shall be friends again anon. But see, now, how pas- 
sion takes hold upon this man and hurrieth him out of himself! As 
with one passion, so with another! He hath done a wild thing ere- 
now, this pious Master Dimmesdale, in the hot passion of his 

It proved not difficult to re-establish the intimacy of the two com- 
panions, on the same footing and in the same degree as heretofore. 
The young clergyman, after a few hours of privacy, was sensible that 
the ffisorder of his nerves had hurried him into an unseemly out- 
break of temper, which there had been nothing to the physician’s 
words to excuse or palliate. He marveled, indeed, at the violence 
with which he had thrust back the kind old man, when merely prof- 
fering the advice which it was his duty to bestow, and which the 
minister himself had expressly sought. With these rmnorseful feel- 
ings, he lost no time in making the amplest apolo^s, and besougiht 
his friend still to continue the care, which, if not successful in restor- 
ing him to health, had, in all probability, been the means of prolong- 
ing his feeble existence to that hour. Roger Qiillingworth readily 
assented, and went on wiffi his medical supervision of the minis- 
ter; doing his best for him, in all good faith, but always quitting the 
patient’s apartment, at the close of a professional interview, with a 
mysterious and puzzled smile upon his lips. This expressitm was in- 


The Scarlet Letter 

visible in Mr. Dimmesdale’s presence, but grew strongly evident as 
the physician crossed the threshold. 

“A rare case!” he muttered. “I must needs look deeper into it. A 
strange sympathy betwixt soul and body! Were it only for the art’s 
sake, I must search this matter to the bottom!” 

It came to pass, not long after the scene above recorded, that the 
Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale, at noonday, and entirely unawares, fell 
into a deep, deep slumber, sitting in his chair, with a large black-letter 
volume open before him on the table. It must have been a work of 
vast ability in the somniferous school of literature. The profound 
depth of Ae minister’s repose was the more remarkable, inasmuch 
as he was one of those persons whose sleep, ordinarily, is as light, as 
fitful, and as easily scared away, as a small bird hopping on a twig. 
To such an unwonted remoteness, however, had his spirit now with- 
drawn into itself, that he stirred not in his chair when old Roger 
Chillingworth, without any extraordinary precaution, came into the 
room. The physician advanced directly in front of his patient, laid 
his hand upon his bosom, and thrust aside the vestment that, hith- 
erto, had always covered it even from the professional eye. 

Then, indeed, Mr. Dimmesdale shuddered, and slightly stirred. 

After a brief pause, the physician turned away. 

But with what a wild look of wonder, joy and horror! With what 
a ghastly rapture, as it were, too mighty to be expressed only by the 
eye and features, and therefore bursting forth through the whole ug- 
liness of his figure, and making itself even riotously manifest by the 
extravagant gestures with which he threw up his arms toward the 
ceiling, and stamped his foot upon the floor! Had a man seen old 
Roger Chillingworth, at the moment of his ecstasy, he would have 
had no need to ask how Satan comports himself when a precious hu- 
man soul is lost to heaven, and won into his kingdom. 

But what distinguished the physician’s ecstasy from Satan’s was 
the trait of wonder in it! 

The Interior of a Heart 

AFTER THE INCIDENT last described, the intercourse between die 
-tV clergyman and the physician, thoug|i externally the same, was 
really of another character fb*" it had previously been. The intellect 


Nathaniel Hawthorne 

of Roger Chillingworth had now a sufficiently plain path before it. 
It was not, indeed, precisely that which he had laid out for himself 
to tread. Calm, gentle, passionless, as he appeared, there was yet, 
we fear, a quiet depth of malice, hitherto latent, but active now, in 
this unf ortunate old man, which led him to imagine a more intimate 
revenge than any mortal had ever wreaked upon an enemy. To 
make himself the one trusted friend, to whom should be confided all 
the fear, die remorse, the agony, the ineffec^al repentance, the 
backward rush of sinful thoughts, expelled in vain! All that guUty 
sorrow, hidden from the world, whose great heart would have pided 
and forgiven, to be revealed to him, the Pitiless, to him, the Unfor- 
giving! All that dark treasure to be lavished on the very man, to 
whom nothing else could so adequately pay the debt of vengeance! 

The clergyman’s shy and sensitive reserve had balked this scheme. 
Roger Chillingworth, however, was inclined to be hardly, if at all, 
less satisfied with the aspect of affairs, which Providence — ^using the 
avenger and his vicdm for its own purposes, and, perchance, pardon- 
ing where it seemed most to punish — ^had subsdtuted for his black 
devices. A revelation, he could almost say, had been granted to him. 
It mattered littie, for his object, whether celestial, or from what 
other region. By its aid, in all the subsequent relations betwixt him 
and Mr. Dimmesdale, not merely the external presence, but the very 
inmost soul, of the latter, seemed to be brought out before his eyes, 
so that he could see and comprehend its every movement. He be- 
came, thenceforth, not a spectator only, but a chief actor, in the poor 
minister’s interior world. He could play upon him as he chose. 
Would he arouse him with a throb of agony? The victim was forever 
on the rack; it needed only to know the spring that controlled the 
engine; and the physician knew it well! Would he startle him with 
sudden fear? As at the waving of a magician’s wand, uprose a grisly 
phantom — ^uprose a thousand phantoms — ^in many shapes, of death, 
or more awful shame, all fiocking round about the clergyman, and 
pointing with their fingers at his breast! 

AH this was accomplished with a subtlety so perfect that the min- 
ister, though he had constantly a dim perception of some evil influ- 
ence watching over him, could never gain a knowledge of its actual 
nature. True, he looked doubtfully, fearfully— even, at times, with 
horror and the bitterness of hatred — ^at the deformed figure of the 
(fid physician. His gestures, his gait, his grizzled beard, his slightest 
and most indifferent acts, the very fashion of his garments, were 


The Scarlet Letter 

odious in the clergyman’s sig|it; a token implicitly to be relied on, of 
a deeper antipathy in the breast of the latter than he was willing to 
acknowledge to himself. For, as it was impossible to assign a reason 
for such distrust and abhorrence, so Mr. Dimmesdale, conscious that 
the poison of one morbid spot was infecting his heart’s entire sub- 
stance, attributed all his presentiments to no other cause. He took 
himself to task for his bad sympathies in reference to Roger Chilling- 
worth, disregarded the lesson diat he should have drawn from them, 
and ^d his best to root them out. Unable to accomplish this, he 
nevertheless, as a matter of principle, continued his habits of social 
familiarly with the old man, and thus gave him constant opportuni- 
ties for perfecting the purpose to which — ^poor, forlorn creature that 
he was, and more wretched than his victim — ^the avenger had de- 
voted himself. 

While thus suffering under bodily disease, and gnawed and tor- 
tured by some black trouble of the soul, and ^ven over to the mach- 
inations of his deadliest enemy, the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale had 
achieved a brilliant popularity in his sacred office. He won it, in- 
deed, in great part, by bis sorrows. His intellectual gifts, his moral 
perceptions, his power of experiencing and communicating emotion, 
were kept in a state of preternatural activity by the prick and an- 
guish of his daily life. His fame, though still on its upward slope, al- 
ready overshadowed the soberer reputations of his fellow clerg3rmen, 
eminent as several of them were. . . . 

It is inconceivable, the agony with which this public veneration 
tortured him! It was his genuine impulse to adore the truth, and to 
reckon all things shadowlike, and utterly devoid of weight or value, 
thaf had not its divine essence as the life within their life. Then, 
what was he? — a substance? — or the dimmest of all shadows? He 
longed to speak out, from his own pulpit, at the full height of his 
voice, and tell the people what he was. “I, whom you behold in these 
black garments of the priesthood — I, who ascend the saoed desk, 
and turn my pale face heavenward, taking upon m3rself to hold ctsn- 
munion, in your behalf, with the Most High Omniscience — ^I, in 
whose daily life you discern the sanctity of Enoch— -I, whose foot- 
steps, as you suppose, leave a ^eam along my earthly track, 
whereby the pilgrims that shall come after me may be gmded to the 
regions of the blest — I, who have laid the hand of baptism upon 
your children— I, who have breathed the parting jnajer over your 
dying friends, to whom the Amen sounded faintly from a world 


Nathaniel Hawthorne 
which they had quitted — your pastor, whom you so reverence and 
trust, am utterly a pollution and a lie!” 

More than once, Mr. Dimmesdale had gone into the pulpit, mth 
a purpose never to come down its steps until he should have spoken 
words like the above. More than once, he had cleared his throat, 
and drawn in the long, deep and tremulous breath, which, when 
sent forth again, would come burdened with the black secret of bis 
soul. More than once — ^nay, more than a hun^d times — ^he had 
actually spoken! Spoken? But how? He had told' his hearers that he 
was altogether vile, a viler companion of the vilest, the worst of sin- 
ners, an abomination, a thing of unimaginable iniquity; and that the 
only wonder was that they did not see his wretched body shriveled 
up before their eyes, by the burning wrath of the Almighty! Could 
there be plainer speech than this? Would not the people start up in 
their seats, by a simultaneous impulse, and tear him down out of the 
pulpit, which he defiled? Not so, indeed! They heard it all, and did 
but reverence him the more. They little guessed what deadly purport 
lurked in those self-condemning words. “The godly youth!” said they 
among themselves. “The saint on earth! Alas, if he discern such sin- 
fulness in his own white soul, what horrid spectacle would he behold 
in thine or mine!” The minister well knew — subtle, but remorseful 
hypocrite that he was! — ^the light in which his vague confession 
would be viewed. He had striven to put a cheat upon himself by 
making the avowal of a guilty conscience, but had gained only one 
other sin, and a self-acknowledged shame, without the momentaiy 
relief of being self-deceived. He had spoken the very truth, and 
transformed it into the veriest falsehood. And yet, by the constitu- 
tion of his nature, he loved the truth, and loathed the lie, as few 
men ever did. Therefore, above all things else, he loathed his miser- 
able self! 

... He kept vigils night after night, sometimes in utter darkness; 
sometimes with a glimmering lamp; and sometimes, viewing his own 
face in a looking glass, by the most powerful lig^t which he could 
throw upon it. He thus typified the constant introspection wherewith 
he tortured, but could not purify, himself. In these lengthened vigils, 
his brain often reeled, and visions seemed to flit before him; per- 
haps seen doubtfully, and by a faint light of their own, in the remote 
dimness of the chamber, or more vividly, and close beside him, 
within the looking glass. Now it was a herd of diabolic shapes, that 
grinned and mocked at the pale minister, and beckoned Him away 
wifli them; now a group of shining an^ls, who flew upward heavily, 


The Scarlet Letter 

as sorrow-laden, but grew more ethereal as they rose. Now came the 
dead friends of his youth, and his white-bearded father, with a saint- 
like frown, and his mother, turning her face away, as she passed by. 
Ghost of a mother — ^thinnest fantasy of a mother — ^methinks she 
might have yet thrown a pitying glance toward her son! And now, 
through the chamber which these spectral thoughts had made so 
ghastly, glided Hester Prynne, leading along little Pearl, in her 
scarlet garb, and pointing her forefinger, first at the scarlet letter on 
her bosom, and ^en at the clergyman’s own breast. 

None of these visions ever quite deluded him. At any moment, by 
an effort of his will, he could discern substances through their misty 
lack of substance, and convince himself that they were not solid in 
their nature, like yonder table of carved oak, or that big, square, 
leathem-boimd and brazen-clasped volume of divinity. But, for all 
that, they were, in one sense, the truest and most substantial things 
which the poor minister now dealt with. It is the unspeakable misery 
of a life so false as his, that it steals the pith and substance out of what- 
ever realities there are around us, and which were meant by Heaven to 
be the spirit’s joy and nutriment. To the untrue man, the whole uni- 
verse is false — it is impalpable — ^it shrinks to nothing within his grasp. 
And he himself, in so far as he shows himself in a fdse light, becomes 
a shadow or, indeed, ceases to exist. The only truth that continued to 
give Mr. Dimmesdale a real existence on this earth was the anguish 
in his inmost soul, and the imdissembled expression of it in his as- 
pect. Had he once found power to smile, and wear a face of gaiety, 
there would have been no such man! 

On one of those ugly nights, which we have faintly hinted at, but 
forborne to picture forth, the minister started from his chair. A new 
thought had struck him. There might be a moment’s peace in it. At- 
tiring himself with as much care as if it had been for public worship, 
and precisely in the same manner, he stole softly down the staircase, 
undid the door and issued forth. 

The Minister's Vigil 

W ALKING IN THE SHADOW of a dream, as it were, and pei^ps 
actually under the influence of a species of somnambuhs®, 
Mr. Dimmesdale reached the spot where, now so Itmg since, Hester 
Prynne had lived througjh her first hours of public ignominy. Hie 


Nathaniel Hawthorne 
place of shame; and, half crazed betwixt alarm and curiosity, would 
go, knocking from door to door, summoning all the people to behold 
^e ghost — as he needs must think of it — of some defunct transgres- 
sor. A dusky tumult would flap its wings from one house to another. 
... All people, in a word, would come stumbling over their thresh- 
olds, and turning up their amazed and horror-stricken visages around 
the scaffold. Whom would they discern there, with the red eastern 
light upon his brow? Whom, but the Reverend Aithur Dimmesdale, 
half frozen to death, overwhelmed with shame, and standing where 
Hester Pryime had stood! 

Carried away by the grotesque horror of this picture, the minister, 
unawares, and to his own infinite alarm, burst into a great peal of 
laughter. It was immediately responded to by a light, airy, childish 
laugh, in which, with a thrill of the heart — ^but he knew not whether 
of exquisite pain, or pleasure as acute— he recognized the tones of 
little Pearl. 

“Pearl! Little Pearl!” cried he after a moment’s pause; then, sup- 
pressing his voice — “Hester! Hester Prynne! Are you there?” 

“Yes; it is Hester Prynne!” she replied, in a tone of surprise; and 
the minister heard her footsteps approaching from the sidewalk, 
along which she had been passing. “It is I, and my little Pearl.” 

“Whence come you, Hester!” asked the minister. “What sent you 

“I have been watching at a deathbed,” answered Hester Prynne — 
“at Governor Winthrop’s deathbed, and have taken his measure for 
a robe, and am now going homeward to my dwelling.” 

“Come up hither, Hester, thou and little Pearl,” said the Reverend 
Mr. Dimmesdale. “Ye have both been here before, but I was not 
with you. Come up hither once again, and we will stand all three 

She silently ascended the steps, and stood on the platform, hold- 
ing little Pearl by the hand. The minister felt for the_child’s other 
hand, and took it. The moment that he did so, there came what 
seemed a tumultuous rush of new life, other life Aan his own, pour- 
ing like a torrent into his heart, and hurrying through all his veins, as 
if the mother and the child were communicating their vital warmth 
to his half-torpid system. The three formed an electric chain. 

“Minister!” whispered little Pearl. 

“What wouldst thou say, child?” asked Mr. Dimmesdale. 


The Scarlet Letter 

*‘Wilt thou stand here with mother and me, tomorrow noontide?^ 
inquired Pearl. 

“Nay, not so, my little Pearl,” answered the minister; for with the 
new energy of the moment, all the dread of public exposure, that had 
so long been the anguish of his life, had returned upon him; and he 
was already trembling at the conjunction in which — ^with a strange 
joy, nevertheless — ^he now found himself. “Not so, my child. I shall, 
indeed, stand with thy mother and thee, one other day, but not to- 

Pearl laughed, and attempted to pull away her hand. But the 
minister held it fast. 

“A moment longer, my child!” said he. 

“But wilt thou promise,” asked Pearl, “to take my hand and 
mother’s hand, tomorrow noontide?” 

“Not then. Pearl,” said the minister, “but another time.” 

“And what other time?” persisted the child. 

“At the great judgment day,” whispered the minister — ^and 
strangely enough, the sense that he was a professional teacher of the 
truth impelled him to answer the child so. “Then, and there, before 
the judgment seat, thy mother, and thou, and I must stand together. 
But the daylight of this world shall not see our meeting!” 

Pearl laughed again. 

But before Mr. Dimmesdale had done speaking, a light gjeamed 
far and wide over all the muffled sky. It was doubtless caused by one 
of those meteors, which the ni^t watcher may so often observe, 
burning out to waste, in the vacant regions of the atmosphere. So 
powerful was its radiance, that it thoroughly illuminated the dense 
medium of cloud betwixt the sky and earth. The great vault bright- 
ened, like the dome of an immense lamp. It showed the familiar 
scene of the street, with the distinctness of midday, but also with the 
awfulness that is always imparted to familiar objects by an unaccus- 
tomed lig^t. The wooden houses, with their jutting stories and quaint 
gable peaks; the doorsteps and thresholds, with the early grass 
springing up about them; the garden plots, black with freshly turned 
earth; the wheel-track, little worn, and, even in the market place, 
marked with green on either side — all were visible, but with a sin- 
gularity of aspect that seemed to ^ve another moral interpretation 
to the things of this world than they had ever borne before. And 
there stood the minister, vrfth his hand over his heart; and Hester 


Nathaniel Hawthorne 
Prynne, with the embroidered letter glimmering on her bosom; and 
litde Pearl, herself a symbol, and the connecting link between those 
two. They stood in the noon of that strange and solemn splendor, as 
if it were the light that is to reveal all secrets, and the daybreak that 
shall unite all who belong to one another. 

There was witchcraft in little Pearl’s eyes, and her face, as she 
glanc ed upward at the minister, wore that naughty smile which made 
its expression frequently so elfish. She withdrew her hand from Mr. 
Dimmesdale’s, and pointed across the street. But he clasped both his 
hands over his breast, and cast his eyes toward the zenith. . . . 

We impute it solely to the disease in his own eye and heart, that 
the minister, looking upward to the zenith, beheld there the appear- 
ance of an immense letter — ^the letter A — ^marked out in lines of dull 
red light. Not but the meteor may have shown itself at that point, 
burning duskily through a veil of cloud; but with no such shape as his 
guilty imagination gave it; or, at least, with so little definiteness, that 
another’s guilt might have seen another symbol in it. 

There was a singular circumstance that characterized Mr. Dim- 
mesdale’s psychological state at this moment. All the time that he 
gazed upward to the zenith, he was, nevertheless, perfectly aware 
that little Pearl was pointing her finger toward old Roger Chilling- 
worth, who stood at no great distance from the scaffold. The minis- 
ter appeared to see him, with the same glance that discerned the 
miraciUous letter. To his features, as to all other objects, the meteoric 
light imparted a new expression; or it might well be that the physician 
was not careful then, as at all other times, to hide the msdevolence 
with which he looked upon his victim. Certainly, if the meteor kin- 
dled up the sky, and disclosed the earth, with an awfulness that ad- 
monished Hester Piynne and the cler^man of the day of judgment, 
then might Roger Chillingworth have passed with them for the 
archfiend, standing there with a smile and scowl to claim his own. 
So vivid was the expression, or so intense the minister’s perception 
of it, that it seemed still to remain painted on the darkness, after the 
meteor had vanished, with an effect as if the street and all things 
dse were at once annihilated. 

“Who is that man, Hester?” gasped Mr. Dimmesdale, overcome 
with terror. ‘T shiver at himi Dost thou know the man? I hate him, 

She remembered her oath, and was silent. 

“I tell thee, my soul shivers at him!” muttered the minister again. 


The Scarlet Letter 

“Who is he? Who is he? Canst thou do nothing for me? I have a 
nameless horror of the man!” 

“Minister,” said little Pearl, “I can tell thee who he is!” 

“Quickly, then, child!” said the minister, bending his ear close to 
her lips. “Quickly! — and as low as thou canst whisper.” 

Pearl mumbled something into his ear, that sounded, indeed, like 
human language, but was only such gibberish as children may be 
heard amusing themselves with, by the hour together. At all events, 
if it involved any secret information in regard to old Roger Chilling- 
worth, it was in a tongue unknown to the erudite clergyman, and did 
but increase the bewilderment of his mind. The elfish child then 
laughed aloud. 

“Dost thou mock me now?” asked the minister. 

“Thou wast not bold! — ^thou wast not true!” — answered the child. 
“Thou wouldst not promise to take my hand, and my mother’s hand, 
tomorrow noontide!” 

“Worthy Sir,” answered the physician, who had now advanced to 
the foot of the platform. “Pious Master Dimmesdale, can this be 
you? Well, well, indeed! We men of study, whose heads are in our 
books, have need to be straitly looked after! We dream in our wak- 
ing moments, and walk in our sleep. Come, good Sir, and my dear 
friend, I pray you, let me lead you home!” 

“How knewest thou that I was here?” asked the minister, fear- 

“Verily, and in good faith,” answered Roger Chillingworth, “I 
knew nothing of the matter. I had spent the better part of the night 
at the bedside of the worshipful Governor Winthrop, doing what my 
poor skill mig^t to give him ease. He going home to a better world, 
I, likewise, was on my way homeward, when this strange li^t shone 
out. Come with me, I beseech you. Reverend Sir; else you will be 
poorly able to do Sabbath duty tomorrow. Aha! see now, how they 
trouble the brain — ^these books! — these books! You should study less, 
good Sir, and take a little pastime; or these nigiht whimseys will grow 
upon you.” 

“I wQl go home with you,” said Mr. Dimmesdale. 

With a diill despondency, like one awaking, all nerveless, from 
an u^y dream, he yielded himself to the physician, and was led away. 

The next day, however, being the Sabbath, he preached a dis- 
course which was held to te the richest and most powerful, and the 
most replete with heavenly influences, that had evo* proceeded from 


Nathaniel Hawthorne 

his lips. Souls, it is said more souls than one, were brought to the 
truth by the eflScacy of that sermon, and vowed within themselves to 
rharish a holy gratitude toward Mr. Dimmesdale throughout the 
long hereafter. But, as he came down the pulpit steps, the gray- 
bearded sexton met him, holding up a black glove, which the minis- 
ter recognized as his own. 

“It was found,” said the sexton, “this morning, on the scaffold 
where evildoers are set up to public shame. SatAif 'dropped it there, 
I take it, intending a scurrilous jest against your reverence. But, in- 
deed, he was blind and foolish, as he ever and always is. A pure hand 
needs no glove to cover it!” 

“Thank you, my good friend,” said the minister, gravely, but star- 
tled at heart; for so confused was his remembrance, that he had al- 
most brought himself to look at the events of the past night as vision- 
ary. “Yes, it seems to be my glove, indeed!” 

“And, since Satan saw fit to steal it, your reverence must needs 
handle him without gloves, henceforward,” remarked the old sexton, 
grimly smiling. “But did your reverence hear of the portent that was 
seen last night? — a great red letter in the sky — the letter A, which 
we interpret to stand for Angel. For, as our good Governor Winthrop 
was made an angel this past night, it was doubtless held fit that there 
should be some notice thereof!” 

“No,” answered the minister, “I had not heard of it.” 

Another View of Hester 

I N HER LATE SINGULAR INTERVIEW with Mr. Dimmesdale, Hester 
Piynne was shocked at the condition to which she found the cler^- 
man reduced. His nerve seemed absolutely destroyed. His moral force 
was abased into more than childish weakness. It groveled helpless on 
the ground, even while his intellectual faculties retained their pristine 
strength, or had perhaps acquired a morbid energy, which disease 
only could have gjven them. With her knowledge of a train of cir- 
cumstances hidden from all others, she could readily infer that, be- 
sides the legitimate action of his own conscience, a terrible ma- 
chinery had been brought to bear, and was still operating, on Mr. 
Dimmesdale’s well-being and repose. Knowing what this poor, fallen 
man had once been, her whole soul was moved by the shuddering 


The Scarlet Letter 

terror with which he had appealed to her — ^the outcast woman — for 
support against his instinctively discovered enemy. She decided, 
moreover, that he had a right to her utmost aid. Little accustomed, 
in her long seclusion from society, to measure her ideas of right and 
wrong by any standard external to herself, Hester saw— or seemed 
to see — ^that there lay a responsibility upon her, in reference to the 
clergyman, which she owed to no other, nor to the whole world be- 
sides. The links that united her to the rest of human kind — blinks of 
flowers, or silk, or gold, or whatever the material — ^had all been 
broken. Here was the iron link of mutual crime, which neither he nor 
she could break. Like all other ties, it brought along with it its obli- 

Hester Prynne did not now occupy precisely the same position in 
which we beheld her during the earlier periods of her ignominy. 
Years had come and gone. Pearl was now seven years old. Her 
mother, with the scarlet letter on her breast, glittering in its fantastic 
embroidery, had long been a familiar object to the townspeople. As 
is apt to be the case when a person stands out in any prominence be- 
fore the community, and, at the same time, interferes neither with pub- 
lic nor individual interests and convenience, a species of general 
regard had ultimately grown up in reference to Hester Prynne. It is to 
the credit of human nature, that, except where its selfishness is brought 
into play, it loves more readily than it hates. Hatred, by a gradual 
and quiet process, will even be transformed to love, unless the change 
be impeded by a continually new irritation of the original feeling of 
hostility. In this matter of Hester Prynne, there was neither irritation 
nor irksomeness. She never battled with the public, but submitted, 
imcomplainingly, to its worst usage; she made no claim upon it, in 
requital for what she suffered; she did not wei^ upon its sympathies. 
Then, also, the blameless purity of her life during all these years in 
which she had been set apart to infamy, was reckoned largely in her 
favor. With nothing now to lose, in si^t of mankind, and with no 
hope, and seemingly no wish, of gaining anything, it could only be a 
genuine regard for virtue that had brougfht back the poor wanderer 
to its paths. 

It was perceived, too, that while Hester never put forward even 
the humblest title to share in the world’s privileges — ^further than to 
breathe the common air, and earn daily bread for little Pearl and 
herself by the fmthful labor of her hands — she was quick to m- 
knowledge her sisterhood with the race of man, whenever benefits 


Nathaniel Hawthorne 
were to be conferred. None so ready as she to ^ve of her little sub- 
stance to every demand of poverty; even though the bitter-hearted 
pauper threw back a gibe in requital of the food brought regularly 
to his door, or the garments wrought for him by the fingers that could 
have embroidered a monarch’s robe. None so self-devoted as Hester, 
when pestilence stalked through the town. In all seasons of calamity, 
indeed, whether general or of individuals, the p^cast of society at 
once found her place. She came, not as a guest, but as a rightful in- 
mate, into the household that was darkened by trouble; as if its 
glloomy twilight were a medium in which she was entitled to hold 
intercourse with her fellow creatures. There glimmered the em- 
broidered letter, with comfort in its unearthly ray. Elsewhere the 
token of sin, it was the taper of the sick-chamber. It had even thrown 
its gleam, in the sufferer’s hard extremity, across the verge of time. 
It had shown him where to set his foot, while the light of earth was 
fast becoming dim, and ere the li^t of futurity could reach him. In 
such emergencies, Hester’s nature showed itself warm and rich; a 
wellspring of human tenderness, unfailing to every real demand, and 
inexhaustible by the largest. Her breast, with its badge of shame, was 
but the softer pillow for the head that needed one. She was self-or- 
dained a Sister of Mercy; or, we may rather say, the world’s heavy 
hand had so ordained her, when neither the world nor she looked 
forward to this result. The letter was the symbol of her calling. Such 
helpfulness was found in her — so much power to do, and power to 
sympathize — ^that many people refused to interpret the scarlet A by 
its original signification, lliey said it meant Able; so strong was Hes- 
ter Prynne, with a woman’s strength. 

It was only the darkened house that could contain her. When sun- 
shine came again, she was not there. Her shadow had faded across 
the threshold. The helpful inmate had departed, without one back- 
ward glance to gather up the meed of gratitude, if any were in the 
hearts of those whom she had served so zealously. Meeting them in 
the street, she never raised her head to receive their greeting. If they 
were resolute to accost her, she laid her finger on the scarlet letter and 
passed on. This might be pride, but was like humility, that it pro- 
duced all the softening influence of the latter quality on the public 
mind. . . . Society was inclined to ^ow its former victim a more 
benign countenance than she cared to be favored with, or, perdiance, 
Aan she deserved. 

Hie rulers, and the wise and learned men of the commuiii^, were 


The Scarlet Letter 

Icmger in acknowledging the influence of Hester’s good qualities than 
the people. . . . Day by day, nevertheless, their sour and rig^d 
wrinkles were relaxing into something which, in the due course of 
years, might grow to be an expression of almost benevolence. Thus 
it was with the men of rank, on whom their eminent position imposed 
the guardianship of the public morals. Individuals in private life, 
meanwhile, had quite forgiven Hester Prynne for her frailty; nay, 
more, they had begun to look upon the scarlet letter as the token, not 
of that one sin, for which she had borne so long and dreary a pen- 
ance, but of her many good deeds since. . . . Thus, the scarlet let- 
ter had the effect of the cross on a nun’s bosom. It imparted to the 
wearer a kind of sacredness, which enabled her to walk securely 
amid all peril. Had she fallen among thieves, it would have kept her 
safe. It was reported, and believed, by many, that an Indian had 
drawn his arrow against the badge, and that the missile struck it, but 
fell harmless to the ground. 

The effect of the symbol — or, rather, of the position in respect to 
society that was indicated by it — on the mind of Hester Prynne her- 
self, was powerful and peculiar. All the light and graceful foliage of 
her character had been withered up by this red-hot brand, and had 
long ago fallen away, leaving a bare and harsh outline, which might 
have been repulsive, had she possessed friends or companions to be 
repelled by it. Even the attractiveness of her person had undergone 
a similar change. It might be partly owing to the studied austeri^ of 
her dress, and partly to the lack of demonstration in her manners. 
It was a sad transformation, too, that her rich and luxuriant hair had 
either been cut off, or was completely hidden by a cap, that not a 
shining lock of it ever once gushed into the sunshine. It was due in 
part to all these causes, but still more to something else, that there 
seemed to be no longer anything in Hester’s face for Love to dwell 
upon; nothing in Hester’s form, though majestic and statue-like, that 
Passion would ever dmam of clasping in its embrace; nothing in Hes- 
ter’s bosom, to make it ever again the pillow of Affection. Some at- 
tribute had departed from her, the pmnanence of which had been 
essential to keep her a woman. Such is frequenffy the fate, and such 
the stem development, of the feminine character and person, when 
the woman has encountered, and lived through, an experience of pe- 
culiar severity. If she be all tenderness, she will die. If she survive, 
the tenderness will either be crushed out ct her, or — and the oot> 
ward semblanM is the same-^— crushed so deeply into her heart that 


Nathaniel Hawthorne 
to redeem her error, so far as it might yet be possible. Strengthened 
by years of hard and solemn trial, she felt herself no longer so inade- 
quate to cope with Roger Chillingworth as on that night, abased by 
sin, and half maddened by the ignominy, that was still new, when 
they had talked together in the prison chamber. She had climbed her 
way, since then, to a higher point. The old man, on the other hand, 
had brought himself nearer to her level, or perhaps below it, by the 
revenge which he had stooped for. 

In fine, Hester Prynne resolved to meet her former husband, and 
do what mi^t be in her power for the rescue of the victim on whom 
he had so evidently set his grip. The occasion was not long to seek. 
One afternoon, walking with Pearl in a retired part of the peninsula, 
she beheld the old physician, with a basket on one arm, and a staff 
in the other hand, stooping along the ground, in quest of roots and 
herbs to concoct his medicines withal. 

Hester and the Physician 

H ester bade little pearl run down to the margin of the water, 
and play with the shells and tangled seaweed, until she should 
have talked awhile with yonder gatherer of herbs. So the child flew 
away like a bird, and, making bare her small white feet, went patter- 
ing along the moist margin of the sea. Here and there she came to a 
full stop, and peeped curiously into a pool, left by the retiring tide as 
a mirror for Pearl to see her face in. Forth peeped at her, out of the 
pool, with dark, glistening curls around her head, and an elf-smile in 
her eyes, the image of a little maid, whom Pearl, having no other 
playmate, invited to take her hand, and run a race with her. But the 
visicmary little maid, on her part, beckoned likewise, as if to say — 
“This is a better place! Come thou into the pool!” And Pearl, step- 
ping in, mid-leg deep, beheld her own white feet at the bottom; 
while, out of a still lower depth, came the gleam of a kind of frag- 
mentary smile, floating to and fro in the agitated water. 

Meanwhile her mother had accosted the physician. 

‘T would speak a word with you,” said she — "z word that concerns 
115 much.” 

”Aha! and is it Mistress Hester that has a word for old Roger 
Obflhngworth?” answered he, raising himself from his stodping pos- 


The Scarlet Letter 

tore. “With all my heart! Why, Mistress, I hear good tidings of you 
on aU hands! No longer ago than yestereve, a magistrate, a wise and 
godly man, was discoursing of your affairs. Mistress Hester, and 
whispered me that there had been question concerning you in the 
council. It was debated whether or no, with safe^ to the common- 
weal, yonder scarlet letter might be taken off your bosom. On my 
life, Hester, I made my entreaty to the worshipful magistrate that it 
might be done forthwift!” 

“It lies not in the pleasure of the ma^strates to take off this 
badge,” calmly rephed Hester. “Were I worthy to be quit of it, it 
would fall away of its own nature, or be transformed into something 
that should speak a different purport.” 

“Nay, then, wear it, if it suit you better,” rejoined he. “A woman 
must needs follow her own fancy, touching the adornment of her 
bosom. The letter is gayly embroidered, and shows right bravely on 
your bosom!” 

All this while, Hester had been looking steadily at the old man, 
and was shocked, as well as wonder-smitten, to discern what a change 
had been wrought upon him within the past seven years. It was not 
so much that he had grown older; for though the traces of advanc- 
ing life were visible, he wore his age well, and seemed to retain a 
wiry vigor and alertness. But the former aspect of an intellectual and 
stu^ous man, calm and quiet, which was what she best remembered 
in him, had altogether vanished, and been succeeded by an eager, 
searching, almost fierce, yet carefully guarded look. It seemed to be 
his wish and purpose to mask this expression with a smile; but the 
latter played him false, and dickered over his visage so derisively, 
that the spectator could see his blackness all the better for it. Ever 
and anon, too, there came a glare of red light out of his eyes; as if the 
old man’s soul were on fire, and kept on smoldering duskily within 
his breast, until, by some casual puff of passion, it was blown into a 
momentary flame. This he repressed, as speedily as possible, and 
strove to look as if nothing of the kind had happened. 

In a word, old Roger Chillingworth was a striking evidence of 
man’s faculty of transforming himself into a devil, if he will only, for 
a reasonable space of time, undertake a devil’s office. This unhappy 
person had effected such a transformation, by devoting himself, for 
seven years, to the constant analysis oi a heart full of torture, and 
deriving his enjoyment thence, and adding fuel to those fiery tortures 
which be analyzed and gloated over. 


Nathaniel Hawthorne 

The scarlet letter burned on Hester Prynne’s bosom. Here was an- 
other ruin, the responsibility of which came partly home to her. 

“What see you in my face,” asked the physician, “that you look at 
it so earnestly?” 

“Something that would make me weep, if there were any tears 
bitter enough for it,” answered she. “But let it pass! It is of yonder 
miserable man that I would speak.” . ^ 

“And what of him?” cried Roger Chillingworth, eagerly, as if he 
loved the topic, and were glad of an opportunity to discuss it with the 
only person of whom he could make a confidant. “Not to hide the 
truth. Mistress Hester, my thoughts happen just now to be busy with 
the gentleman. So speak freely, and 1 will make answer.” 

“When we last spake together,” said Hester, “now seven years 
ago, it was your pleasure to extort a promise of secrecy, as touching 
the former relation betwixt yourself and me. As the life and good 
fame of yonder man were in your hands, there seemed no choice to 
me, save to be silent, in accordance with your behest. Yet it was not 
without heavy misgivings that I thus bound myself; for, having cast 
off all duty toward other human beings, there remained a duty toward 
him; and something whispered me that I was betraying it, in pledging 
myself to keep your counsel. Since that day, no man is so near to him 
as you. You tread behind his every footstep. You are beside him, 
sleeping and waking. You search his thoughts. You burrow and ran- 
kle in his heart! Your clutch is on his life, and you cause him to die 
daily a living death; and still he knows you not. In permitting this, I 
have surely acted a false part by the only man to whom the power 
was left me to be true!” 

“What choice had you?” asked Roger Chillingworth. “My finger, 
pointed at this man, would have hurled him from his pulpit into a 
dungeon — thence, peradventure, to the gallows!” 

“It had been better so!” said Hester Prynne. 

“What evU have I done the man?” asked Ro^rXhillingworth 
again. “I tell thee, Hester Prynne, the richest fee that ever physician 
earned from monarch could not have bought such care as I have 
wasted on this miserable priest! But for my aid, his life would have' 
burned away in torments, within the first two years after the perpe- 
tration of his crime and thine. For, Hester, his spirit lacked the 
strength that could have borne up, as thine has, beneath a burden 
like the scarlet letter. Oh, I could reveal a goodly secret! But enou^i 


The Scarlet Letter 

What art can do, 1 have exhausted on him. That he now breathes, and 
qreeps about on earth, is owing all to me!” 

“Better he had died at once!” said Hester Prynne. 

“Yea, woman, thou sayest truly!” cried old Roger Chillingworth, 
letting the lurid fire of his heart blaze out before her eyes. “Better 
had he died at once! Never did mortal suffer what this man has suf' 
fered. And all, all, in the sight of his worst enemy! He has been 
conscious of me. He has felt an influence dwelling ^dways upon him 
like a curse. He knew, by some spiritual sense — for the Creator 
never made another being so sensitive as this — he knew that no 
friendly hand was pulling at his heartstrings, and that an eye was 
looking curiously into him, which sought only evil, and found it. 
But he knew not that the eye and hand were mine! With the super- 
stition common to his brotherhood, he fancied himself given over to 
a fiend, to be tortured with frightful dreams, and desperate thoughts, 
the sting of remorse, and despair of pardon; as a foretaste of what 
awaits him beyond the grave. But it was the constant shadow of my 
presence! — the closest propinquity of the man whom he had most 
vilely wronged! — and who had grown to exist only by this perpetual 
poison of the direst revenge! Yea, indeed! — he did not err! — ^there 
was a fiend at his elbow! A mortal man, with once a human heart, 
has become a fiend for his especial torment!” 

The unfortunate physician, while uttering these words, lifted his 
hands with a look of horror, as if he had beheld some frightful 
shape, which he could not recognize, usurping the place of his own 
image in a glass. It was one of those moments — which sometimes 
occur only at the interval of years — ^when a man’s moral aspect is 
faithfully revealed to his mind’s eye. Not improbably, he had never 
before viewed himself as he did now. 

“Hast thou not tortured him enougjh?” said Hester, noticing the 
old man’s look. “Hast he not paid thee all?” 

“No! — ^no! He has but increased the debt!” answered the physi- 
cian; and as he proceeded, his manner lost its fiercer characteristics, 
and subsided into gloom. “Dost thou remember me, Hester, as I was 
nine years agone? Even then, I was in the autumn of my days, nor 
was it the early autumn. But all my life had been made up of ear- 
nest, studious, thou^tful, quiet years, bestowed faithfully for the in- 
crease of mine own knowledge, and faithfully, too, though this latter 
object was but casual to the other— faithfully for the advancement 


Nathaniel Hawthorne 
of human welfare. No life had been more peaceful and innocent 
than mine; few lives so rich with benefits conferred. Dost thou re- 
member me? Was I not, though you might deem me cold, neverthe- 
less a man thoughtful for others, craving little for himself — kind, true, 
just, and of constant, if not warm affections? Was I not all this?” 

“All this, and more,” said Hester. 

“And what am I now?” demanded he, looking into her face, and 
permitting the whole evil within him to be written on his features. “I 
have already told thee what I am! A fiend! Who made me so?” 

“It was myself!” cried Hester, shuddering. “It was I, not less than 
he. Why hast thou not avenged thyself on me?” 

“I have left thee to the scarlet letter,” replied Roger Chilling- 
worth. “If that have not avenged me, I can do no more!” 

He laid his finger on it, with a smile. 

“It has avenged thee!” answered Hester Prynne. 

“I judged no less,” said the physician. “And now, what wouldst 
thou with me touching this man?” 

“I must reveal the secret,” answered Hester, firmly. “He must 
discern thee in thy true character. What may be the result, I know 
not. But this long debt of confidence, due from me to him, whose 
bane and ruin I have been, shall at length be paid. So far as con- 
cerns the overthrow or preservation of his fair fame and his earthly 
state, and perchance his life, he is in thy hands. Nor do I — whom the 
scarlet letter has disciplined to truth, though it be the truth of red-hot 
iron, entering into the soul — ^nor do I perceive such advantage in his 
living any longer a life of ghastly emptiness, that I shall stoop to im- 
plore thy mercy. Do with him as thou wilt! There is no good for him 
— no good for me — ^no good for thee! There is no good for little 
Pearl! There is no path to guide us out of this dismal maze!” 

“Woman, I would wellnigh pity thee!” said Roger Chillingworth, 
unable to restrain a thrill of admiration too; for there was a quality 
almost majestic in the despair which she expressed.- “Thou hadst 
great elements. Peradventure, hadst thou met earlier with a better 
love than mine, this evil had not been. I pi^ thee, for the good that 
has been wasted in thy nature!” 

“And I thee,” answered Hester Prynne, “for tlm hatred that has 
transformed a wise and just man to a fiend! Wilt thou yet purge it 
out of thee, and be once more human? If not for his sake, then 
doubly fm thine own! For^ve, and leave his further retribution to 
the ^wer that claims it! I said, but now, that there could be no good 


The Scarlet Letter 

event for him, or thee, or me, who are here wandering toother in 
this gloomy maze of evil, and stumbling, at every step, over the guilt 
wherewith we have strewn our path. It is not so! There mi ght be 
good for thee, and thee alone, since thou hast been deeply wronged, 
and hast it at thy will to pardon. Wilt thou give up that only privi- 
lege? Wilt thou reject that priceless benefit?” 

“Peace, Hester, peace!” replied the old man, with gloomy stern- 
ness. “It is not granted me to pardon. I have no such power as thou 
tellest me of. My old faith, long forgotten, comes back to me, and 
explains all that we do, and all we suffer. By thy first step awry thou 
didst plant the germ of evil; but since that moment, it has all been 
a dark necessity. Ye that have wronged me are not sinful, save in a 
kind of typical illusion; neither am I fiendlike, who have snatched a 
fiend’s office from his hands. It is our fate. Let the black flower blos- 
som as it may! Now go thy ways, and deal as thou wilt with yonder 

He waved his hand, and betook himself again to his employment 
of gathering herbs. 

Hester and Pearl 

S o ROGER CHiLLiNGWORTH — a deformed old figure, with a face that 
haunted men’s memories longer than they liked — ^took leave of 
Hester Prynne, and went stooping away along the earth. He gathered 
here and there an herb, or grubbed up a root, and put it into the 
basket on his arm. His gray beard almost touched die ground, as 
he crept onward. Hester gazed after him a little while, looking with 
a half-fantastic curiosity to see whether the tender grass of early 
spring would not be blighted beneath him, and show the wavering 
track of his footsteps, sere and brown, across its cheerful verdure. 
She wondered what sort of herbs they were, which the old man was 
so sedulous to gather. Would not the earth, quickened to an evil pur- 
pose by the sympathy of his eye, greet him with poisonous shrubs, 
of species hitherto unknown, that would start up under his fingers? 
Or mig^t it suffice him that every wholesome growth should be con- 
verted into something deleterious and m align a n t at his touch? Did 
the sim, whidj shone so brigjitly everywhere else, really fall upon 
him? Or was there, as it rather seemed, a circle of ominous shadow 


Nathaniel Hawthorne 
moving along with his deformity, whichever way he turned himself? 
And whither was he now going? Would he not suddenly sink into 
the earth, leaving a barren and blasted spot, where, in due course of 
time, would be seen deadly nightshade, dogwood, henbane, and 
whatever else of vegetable wickedness the climate could produce, 
all flourishing with Udeous luxuriance? Or would he spread bat’s 
wings and flee away, looking so much the uglienthe higher he rose 
toward heaven? 

“Be it sin or no,’’ said Hester Prynne, bitterly, as she still gazed 
after him, “I hate the man!’’. . . 

“Yes, I hate him!” repeated Hester, more bitterly. “He betrayed 
me! He has done me worse wrong than I did him!” 

Let men tremble to win the hand of woman, unless they win 
along with it the utmost passion of her heart! Else it may be their 
miserable fortune, as it was Roger Chillingworth’s, when some 
mightier touch than their own may have awakened all her sensibili- 
ties, to be reproached even for the calm content, the marble image 
of happiness, which they will have imposed upon her as the warm 
reality. But Hester ought long ago to have done with this injustice. 
What did it betoken? Had seven long years, imder the torture of the 
scarlet letter, inflicted so much of misery, and wrought out no re- 

The emotions of that brief space, while she stood gazing after the 
crooked figure of old Roger Chillingworth, threw a dark light on 
Hester’s state of mind, revealing much that she might not otherwise 
have acknowledged to herself. 

He being gone, she summoned back her child. 

“Pearl! Little Pearl! Where are you?” 

Pearl, whose activity of spirit never flagged, had been at no loss 
for amusement while her mother talked with the old gatherer of 
herbs. . . . She seized a live horseshoe by the tail, and made prize 
of several five-fingers, and laid out a jellyfish to melfin the warm 
sun. Then she took up the white foam, that* streaked the line of the 
advancing tide, and threw it upon the breeze, scampering after it, 
with winged footsteps, to catch the great snowfllakes ere they 
fell. . . . 

Her final employment was to gather seaweed, of various kinds, and 
make herself a scarf, or mantle, and a headdress, and thus assume 
the aspect of a little mermaid. She inherited her mother’s for de- 
vising drapery and costume. As the last touch to her mermaid’s garb, 


The Scarlet Letter 

Pearl took some eelgrass, and imitated, as best she could, on her own 
bosom, the decoration with which she was so familiar on her moth- 
er’s. A letter — ^the letter A — but freshly green, instead of scarlet! 
The child bent her chin upon her breast, and contemplated this de- 
vice with strange interest; even as if the one only thing for which 
she had been sent into the world was to make out its hidden import. 

“I wonder if mother will ask me what it means!” thought Pearl. 

Just then, she heard her mother’s voice, and flitting along as 
lightly as one of the little sea birds, appeared before Hester Prynne, 
dancing, laughing, and pointing her finger to the ornament upon her 

“My little Pearl,” said Hester, after a moment’s silence, “the green 
letter, and on thy childish bosom, has no purport. But dost thou 
know, my chOd, what this letter means which thy mother is doomed 
to wear?” 

“Yes, mother,” said the child. “It is the great letter A. Thou hast 
taught me in the horn-book.” 

Hester looked steadily into her little face; but, though there was 
that singular expression which she had so often remarked in her 
black eyes, she could not satisfy herself whether Pearl really attached 
any meaning to the symbol. She felt a morbid desire to ascertain the 

“Dost thou know, child, wherefore thy mother wears this letter?” 

“Truly do I!” answered Pearl, looking brightly into her mother’s 
face. “It is for the same reason that the minister keeps his hand 
over his heart!” 

“And what reason is that?” asked Hester, half smiling at the ab- 
surd incongruity of the child’s observation; but, on second thou^ts, 
turning pale. “What has the letter to do with any heart, save mine?” 

“Nay, mother, I have told all I know,” said Pearl, more seriously 
than she was wont to speak. “Ask yonder old man whom thou hast 
been talking with! It may be he can tefl. But in good earnest now, 
mother dear, what does this scarlet letter mean? — and why dost thou 
wear it on thy bosom? — and why does the minister keep his hand 
over his heart?” 

. . . Holding her mother’s hand in both her own, and turning her 
face upward, she put these searching questions, once, and again, and 
still a third time. 

“What does the letter mean, mother?— and why dost thou wear 
it? — and why does the minister keep his hand over Ws heart?” 


Nathaniel Hawthorne 

“What shall I say?” thought Hester to herself. “No! If this be the 
price of the child’s sympathy, I cannot pay it.” 

Then she spoke aloud. 

“Silly Pearl,” said she, “what questions are these? There are many 
things in this world that a child must not ask about. What know I of 
the minister’s heart? And as for the scarlet letter, I wear it for the 
sake of its gold thread.” 

In all the seven bygone years, Hester Prynne>'had never before 
been false to the symbol on her bosom. It may be that it was the 
talisman of a Stem and severe, but yet a guardian spirit, who now 
forsook her; as recognizing that, in spite of his strict watch over her 
heart, some new evil had crept into it, or some old one had never 
been expelled. As for little Pearl, the earnestness soon passed out of 
her face. 

But the child did not see fit to let the matter drop. Two or 
three times, as her mother and she went homeward, and as often at 
suppertime, and while Hester was putting her to bed, and once 
after she seemed to be fairly asleep. Pearl looked up, with mischief 
gleaming in her black eyes. 

“Mother,” said she, “what does the scarlet letter mean?” 

And the next morning, the first indication the child gave of being 
awake was by popping up her head from the pillow, and making 
that other inquiry, which she had so imaccountably connected with 
her investigations about the scarlet letter — 

“Mother! — ^Mother! — ^Why does the minister keep his hand over 
his heart?” 

“Hold thy tongue, naughty child!” answered her mother, with an 
asperity that she had never permitted to herself before. “Do not 
tease me else 1 shall shut thee into the dark closet!” 


A Forest Walk 

H ester prynne remained constant in her resolve to make 
known to Mr. Dimmesdale, at whatever risk of present pain 
or ulterior consequences, the true character of the man who had 
crept into his intimacy. For several days, however, she vainly sought 
an opportunity of addressing him in some of the meditative walks 
whidi she knew him to be in the habit of taking, along the shores 


The Scarlet Letter 

of the peninsula, or on the wooded hills of the neighboring country. 
There would have been no scandal, indeed, nor peril to the holy 
whiteness of the clergyman’s good fame, had she visited him in his 
own study, where many a penitent, ere now, had confessed sins of 
perhaps as deep a dye as the one betokened by the scarlet letter. 
But, partly that she dreaded the secret or undisguised interference 
of old Roger Chillingworth, and partly that her conscious heart im- 
puted suspicion where none could have been felt, and partly that 
both the minister and she would need the whole wide world to 
breathe in, while they talked together — ^for all these reasons, Hester 
never thought of meeting him in any narrower privacy than beneath 
the open sky. 

At last, while attending in a sickchamber, whither the Reverend 
Mr. Dimmesdale had been summoned to make a prayer, she learnt 
that he had gone, the day before, to visit the Apostle Eliot, among 
his Indian converts. He would probably return, by a certain hour, 
in the afternoon of the monow. Betimes, therefore, the next day, 
Hester took little Pearl — ^who was necessarily the companion of iXL 
her mother’s expeditions, however inconvenient her presence — and 
set forth. 

The road, after the two wayfarers had crossed from the penin- 
sula to the mainland, was no other than a footpath. It straggled on- 
ward into the mystery of the primeval forest. This hemmed it in so 
narrowly, and stood so black and dense on either side, and disclosed 
such imperfect gjlimpses of the sky above, that, to Hester’s mind, it 
imagined not amiss the moral wilderness in which she had so long 
been wandering. The day was chill and somber. Overhead was a 
gray expanse of cloud, slightly stirred, however, by a breeze; so that 
a g^eam of flickering sunshine might now and then be seen at its 
solitary play along the path. This flitting cheerfulness was always at 
tne farther extremity of some long vista through the forest. The spor- 
tive sunlight — ^feebly sportive, at best, in the predominant pensive- 
ness of the day and scene — ^withdrew itself as they came ni^, and 
left the spots where it had danced the drearier, because they had 
hoped to find them bright. 

“Mother,” said litde Peari, “the sunshine does not love you. 
It runs away and hides itself, because it is afraid of something on 
your bosom. Now seel There it is, playing, a good way off. Stand 
you here, let me run and catch it. I am but a child. It will not flee 
from me, for I wear nothing on my bosom yet!” 


Nathaniel Hawthorne 

“Nor ever wiD, my chfld, I hope,” said Hester. 

“And why not, mother?” asked Pearl, stopping short, just at the 
beginning of her race. “Will not it come of its own accord, when I 
am a woman grown?” 

“Run away, child,” answered her mother, “and catch the sun- 
shine! It will soon be gone.” 

Pearl set forth, at a great pace, and, as Hester smiled to per- 
ceive, did actually catch the sunshine, and stood laughing in the 
midst of it, all brightened by its splendor, and scintillating with the 
vivacity excited by rapid motion. The light lingered about the lovely 
child, as if g|lad of such a playmate, until her mother had drawn al- 
most nigh enough to step into the magic circle too. 

“It will go now,” said Pearl, shaking her head. 

“See!” answered Hester, smiling. “Now I can stretch out my hand, 
and grasp some of it” 

As she attempted to do so, the sunshine vanished; or, to judge 
from the bright expression that was dancing on Pearl’s features, her 
mother could have fancied that the child had absorbed it into her- 
self, and would give it forth again, with a gleam about her path, as 
they should plunge into some gloomier shade. There was no other 
attribute that so much impressed her with a sense of new and un- 
transmitted vigor in Pearl’s nature, as this never-failing vivacity of 
spirits; she had not the disease of sadness, which almost all children, 
in these latter days, inherit, with the scrofula, from the troubles of 
their ancestors. Perhaps this too was a disease, and but the reflex of 
the wild energy with which Hester had fought against her sorrows 
before Pearl’s birth. It was certainly a doubtful charm, imparting a 
hard, metallic luster to the child’s character. She wanted — ^what some 
people want throughout life — a grief that should deeply touch her, 
and thus humanize and make her capable of sympathy. But there 
was time enough yet for little Pearl. 

“Come, my child!” said Hester, looking about her Eom the spot 
where Pearl had stood still in the sunshine. “We will sit down a little 
way within the wood, and rest ourselves.” 

“I am not aweary, mother,” replied the little girl. “But you may 
sit down, if you will tell me a story meanwhile.” 

“A story, child!” said Hester. “And about what?” 

“Oh, a story about the Black Man,” answered Pearl, taking hold 
of her modier’s gown, and looking up, half earnestly, haU mischie- 
vously, into her face. “How he haunts this forest, and carries a book 


The Scarlet Letter 

with him — a big, heavy book, with iron clasps; and how this ugly 
Black Man offers his brok and an iron pen to everybody that meets 
him here among the trees; and they are to write their names with 
their own blood. And then he sets his mark on their bosoms! Didst 
thou ever meet the Black Man, mother?” 

“And who told you this story, Pearl?” asked her mother, recogniz- 
ing a common superstition of the period. 

“It was the old dame in the chi^ey comer, at the house where 
you watched last night,” said the child. “But she fancied me asleep 
while she was talking of it. She said that a thousand and a thousand 
. people had met him here, and had written in his book, and have his 
mark on them. And that ugly-tempered lady, old Mistress Hibbins, 
was one. And, mother, that old dame said that this scarlet letter was 
the Black Man’s mark on thee, and that it glows like a red flame 
when thou meetest him at midnight, here in the dark wood. Is it 
tme, mother? And dost thou go to meet him in the nighttime?” 

“Didst thou ever awake, and find thy mother gone?” asked Hester. 

“Not that I remember,” said the child. “If thou fearest to leave me 
in our cottage, thou mightest take me along with thee. I would very 
gjladly go! But mother, tell me now! Is there such a Black Man? And 
^dst thou ever meet him? And is this his mark?” 

“Wilt thou let me be at peace, if 1 once tell thee?” asked her 

“Yes, if thou tellest me all,” answered Pearl. 

“Once in my life I met the Black Man!” said her mother. “This 
scarlet letter is his mark!” 

Thus conversing, they entered sufficiently deep into the wood to 
secure themselves from the observation of any casual passenger along 
the forest track. Here they sat down on a luxuriant heap of moss, 
which, at some epoch of fbe preceding century, had been a ^gantic 
pine, with its roots and trunk in the darksome shade, and its head 
aloft in the upper atmosphere. It was a little dell where they had 
seated themselves, with a leaf-strewn bank rising gently on either 
side, and a brook flowing through the midst, over a bed of fallen and 
drowned leaves. . . . G}ntinually, indeed, as it stole onward, the 
streamlet kept up a babble, kind, quiet, soothing, but melancholy, 
like the voice of a young child that was spending its infan<y without 
playfulness, and knew not how to be merry among sad acquaintance 
and events of somber hue. 

“O brook! O foolish and tiresome little brook!” cried Pearl, aftw 

Nathaniel Hawthorne 
listening awhile to its talk. “Why art thou so sad? Pluck up a spirit, 
and do not be all the time sighing and murmuring!” 

But the brook, in the course of its little lifetime among the forest 
trees, had gone through so solemn an experience that it could not 
help talking about it, and seemed to have nothing else to say. Pearl 
resembled the brook, inasmuch as the current of her life gushed 
from a wellspring as mysterious, and had flowed through scenes 
shadowed as heavily with gloom. But, unlike fhb' little stream, she 
danced and sparkled, and prattled airily along her course. 

“What does this sad little brook say, mother?” inquired she. 

“If thou hadst a sorrow of thine own, the brook might tell thee of 
it,” answered her mother, “even as it is telliqg'Hme of mine! But now. 
Pearl, I hear a footstep along the path, and the noise of one putting 
aside the branches. I would have thee betake thyself to play, and 
leave me to speak with him that comes yonder.” 

“Is it the Black Man?” asked Pearl. 

“Wilt thou go and play, child?” repeated her mother. “But do not 
stray far into the wood. And take heed that thou come at my first 

“Yes, mother,” answered Pearl. “But if it be the Black Man, wilt 
thou not let me stay a moment, and look at him, with his big book 
under his arm?” 

“Go, silly child!” said her mother. Impatiently. “It is no Black 
Man! Thou canst see him now, through the trees. It is the minister!” 

“And so it is!” said the child. “And, mother, he has his hand over 
his heart! Is it because, when the minister wrote his name in the 
book, the Black Man set his mark in that place? But why does he not 
wear it outside his bosom, as thou dost, mother?” 

“Go now, child, and thou shalt tease me as thou wilt another 
time,” cried Hester Prynne. “But do not stray far. Keep where thou 
canst hear the babble of the brook.” . . 

When her elf-child had departed, Hester Prynne made a step or 
two toward the track that led through the forest, but still remained 
under the deep shadow of die trees. She beheld the minister advanc- 
ing along the path, entirely alone, and leaning on a staff which he ■ 
had cut by the wayside. He looked haggard and feeble, and be- 
trayed a nerveless ^spondency in his air, which had never so re- 
markably characterized him in his walks about the settlement, nor 
in any other situation where he deemed himself liable to notice. 
H«e it was woefully visible, in the intense seclusion of the foiest, 


The Scarlet Letter 

which, of itself, would have been a heavy trial to the spirits. There 
was a listlessness in his gait; as if he saw no reason for taking one 
step farther, nor felt any desire to do so, but would have been gilad, 
could he be glad of anything, to fling himself down at the root of the 
nearest tree, and lie Aere passive, for evermore. The leaves might 
bestrew him, and the soil gradually accumulate and form a little 
hillock over his frame, no matter whether there were life in it or no. 
Death was too definite an object to be wished for or avoided. 

To Hester’s eye, the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale exhibited no 
symptom of positive and vivacious suffering, except that, as little 
Pearl had remarked, he kept his hand over his heart. 


The Pastor and His Parishioner 

S LOWLY AS THE MINISTER WALKED, he had almost gone by, before 
Hester Prynne could gather voice enou^ to attract his observa- 
tion. At length, she succeeded. 

“Arthur Dimmesdale!” she said, faintly at first; then louder, but 
hoarsely. “Arthur Dimmesdale!” 

“Who speaks?” answered the minister. 

Gathering himself qmckly up, he stood more erect, like a man 
taken by surprise in a mood to which he was reluctant to have wit- 
nesses. Throwing his eyes anxiously in the direction of the voice, he 
indistinctly beheld a form under the trees, clad in garments so som- 
ber, and so little relieved from the gray twilight into which the 
clouded sky and the heavy foliage had darkened the noontide, that 
he knew not whether it were a woman or a shadow. It may be, that 
his pathway through life was haunted thus, by a specter that had 
stolen out from among his thoughts. 

He made a step ni^er, and discovered the scarlet letter. 

“Hester! Hester Prynne!” said he. “Is it thou? Art thou in life r 
“Bven so!” she answered. “In such life as has been mine these 
sev^ years past! And thou, Arthur Dimmesdale, dost thou yet 

It was no wonder that th^ thus questioned one another’s actual 
and bodily existence, and even doubted of their own. So strangely 
did they meet, in the dim wood, that it was like the first encountw, 
in the world beyond the grave, erf two spirits who had been inti- 


Nathaniel Hawthorne 
mately connected in their former life, but now stood coldly shud- 
dering, in mutual dread; as not yet familiar with their state, nor 
wonted to the companionship of disembodied beings. Each a ghost, 
and awe-stricken at the other ghost! They were awe-stricken like- 
wise at themselves; because the crisis flung back to them their con- 
sciousness, and revealed to each heart its history and experience, as 
life never does, except at such breathless epodis.* The soul beheld 
its features in the mirror of the passing moment. It was with fear, 
and tremulously, and, as it were, by a slow, reluctant necessity, that 
Arthur Dimmesdale put forth his hand, chill as death, and touched 
the chill hand of Hester Prynne. The grasp, cold as it was, took 
away what was dreariest in the interview. They now felt themselves, 
at least, inhabitants of the same sphere. 

Without a word more spoken — ^neither he nor she assuming the 
guidance, but with an unexpressed consent — they glided back into 
the shadow of the woods, whence Hester had emerged, and sat 
down on the heap of moss where she and Pearl had before been sit- 
ting. When they found voice to speak, it was, at first, only to utter 
remarks and inquiries such as any two acquaintances might have 
made, about the gloomy sky, the threatening storm, and, next, the 
health of each. Thus they went onward, not boldly, but step by step, 
into the themes that were brooding deepest in their hearts. So long 
estranged by fate and circumstances, they needed something slight 
and casual to run before, and throw open the doors of intercourse, 
so that their real thoughts might be led across the threshold. 

After a while, the minister fixed his eyes on Hester Prynne’s. 

“Hester,” said he, “hast thou found peace?” 

She smiled drearily, looking down upon her bosom. 

“Hast thou?” she asked. 

“None! — ^nothing but despair!” he answered. “What else could I 
look for, being what I am, and leading such a life as mine? Were I 
an atheist — a man devoid of conscience — a wretch with coarse and 
brutal instincts — might have found peace, long ere now. Nay, I 
never should have lost it! But, as matters stand with my soul, what- 
ever of good capacity there originally was in me, all of God’s gifts 
that were the choicest have become the ministers of spiritual tor- 
mrat. Hester, I am most miserable!” 

“The people reverence thee,” said Hester. “And surely thou work- 
est good among them! Doth this bring thee no comfort?” » 

‘^ore misery, Hester! — only the more misery!” answered the 


The Scarlet Letter 

clergyman, with a bitter smile. “As concerns the good whidi I may 
appear to do, I have no faith in it. It must needs be a delusion. What 
can a ruined soul, like mine, effect toward the redemption of other 
souls? — or a polluted soul toward their purification? And as for the 
people’s reverence, would that it were turned to scorn and hatred! 
Canst thou deem it, Hester, a consolation, that I must stand up in 
my pulpit, and meet so many eyes turned upward to my face, as if 
the light of heaven were beaming from it! — ^must see my flock hun- 
gry for the truth, and listening to my words as if a tongue of Pente- 
cost were speaking! — and then look inward, and discern the black 
reality of what they idolize? I have laughed, in bitterness and agony 
of heart, at the contrast between what I seem and what I am! And 
Satan laughs at it!” 

“You wrong yourself in this,” said Hester, gently. “You have 
deeply and sorely repented. Your sin is left behind you, in the days 
long past. Your present life is not less holy, in very truth, than it 
seems in people’s eyes. Is there no reality in the penitence thus 
sealed and witnessed by good works? And wherefore should it not 
bring you peace?” 

“No, Hester, no!” replied the clergyman. “There is no substance 
in it! It is cold and dead, and can do nothing for me! Of penance, I 
have had enough! Of penitence, there has been none! Else, I should 
long ago have thrown off these garments of mock holiness, and have 
shown myself to mankind as they will see me at the judgment seat. 
Happy are you, Hester, that wear the scarlet letter openly upon your 
bosom! Mine bums in secret! Thou little knowest what a relief it is, 
after the torment of a seven years’ cheat, to look into an eye that 
recognizes me for what I am! Had I one friend — or were it my 
worst enemy! — ^to whom, when sickened with the praises of all other 
men, I could daily betake myself, and be known as the vilest of all 
sinners, methinks my soul might keep itself alive thereby. Even thus 
much of truth would save me! But, now, it is all falsehood! — all 
emptiness! — all death!” 

Hester Prynne looked into his face, but hesitated to speak. Yet, 
uttering his long-restrained emotions so vehemently as he did, his 
words here offered her the very point of circumstances in which to 
interpose what she came to say. She conquered her fears, and spoke. 

“Such a friend as thou hast even now wished for,” said she, “with 
whom to weep over thy sin, thou hast in me, the partner of it!” — 
Again she hesitated, but brought out the words with an effort.— 


Nathaniel Hawthorne 
“Thou hast long had such an enemy, and dwellest with him, under 
the same roof!” 

The minister started to his feet, gasping for breath, and clutching 
at his heart, as if he would have tom it out of his bosom. 

“Ha! What sayest thou!” cried he. “An enemy! And under mine 
own roof! What mean you?” 

Hester Prynne was now fully sensible of the deep injury for which 
she was responsible to this unhappy man, in penhitting him to lie for 
so many years, or indeed, for a single moment, at the mercy of one 
whose purposes could not be other than malevolent. The very con- 
tiguity of his enemy, beneath whatever mask the latter might conceal 
himself, was enough to disturb the magnetic sphere of a being so sen- 
sitive as Arthur Dimmesdale. There had been a period when Hester 
was less alive to this consideration; or, perhaps, in the misanthropy 
of her own trouble, she left the minister to bear what she might 
picture to herself as a more tolerable doom. But of late, since the 
night of his vigil, all her sympathies towards him had been both 
softened and invigorated. She now read his heart more accurately. 
She doubted not, that the continual presence of Roger Chillingworth 
— ^the secret poison of his malignity, infecting all the air about him 
— and his authorized interference, as a physician, with the minister’s 
physical and spiritual infirmities — diat these bad opportunities had 
been turned to a cruel purpose. By means of them, the sufferer’s 
conscience had been kept in an irritated state, the tendency of which 
was, not to cure by wholesome pain, but to disorganize and corrupt 
his spiritual being. Its result, on earth, could hardly fail to be insanity, 
and hereafter, that eternal alienation from the Good and True, of 
which madness is perhaps the earthly type. 

Such was the ruin to which she had brought the man, once — ^nay, 
why should we not speak it? — still so passionately loved! Hester felt 
that the sacrifice of the clergyman’s good name, and death itself, as 
she had already told Roger Chillingworth, would have been infinitely 
preferable to the alternative which she had taken upon herself to 
choose. And now, rather than have had this grievous wrong to con- 
fess, she would gladly have lain down on the forest leaves, and died, 
there, at Arthur Dimmesdale’s feet. 

“O Arthur,” cried she, “for^ve me! In all things else, 1 have 
striven to be true! Truth was the one virtue which I mi^t have held 
&ist, and did hold fast, through all extremity; save when thy good — 
tiiy life — ^thy fame — ^were put in question! Then I consented to a de- 


The Scarlet Letter 

ception. But a lie is never good, even though death threaten on the 
other side! Dost thou not see what I would say? That old man! — ^the 
physician! — ^he whom they call Roger Chillingworth! — ^he was my 

The minister looked at her for an instant, with all that violence of 
passion, which — ^intermixed, in more shapes than one, with his 
higher, purer, softer qualities — ^was, in fact, the portion of him 
which the Devil claimed and through which he sought to win the 
rest. Never was there a blacker or a fiercer frown than Hester now 
encountered. For the brief space that it lasted, it was a dark trans- 
figuration. But his character had been so much enfeebled by suffer- 
ing, that even its lower energies were incapable of more than a tem- 
porary struggle. He sank down on the ground, and buried his face 
in his hands. 

“I might have known it,” murmured he. “I did know it! Was not 
the secret told me, in the natural recoil of my heart, at the first sight 
of him, and as often as I have seen him since? Why did I not under- 
stand? O Hester Prynne, thou little, little knowest all the horror of 
this thing! And the shame! — ^the indelicacy! — ^the horrible ugliness 
of this exposure of a sick and guilty heart to the very eye that would 
gloat over it! Woman, woman, thou art accountable for this! I can- 
not forgive thee!” 

“Thou shalt forgive me!” cried Hester, flinging herself on the fallen 
leaves beside him. “Let God punish! Thou shalt for^ve!” 

With sudden and desperate tenderness, she threw her arms around 
him, and pressed his head against her bosom; little caring though his 
cheek rested on the scarlet letter. He would have released himself, 
but strove in vain to do so. Hester would not set him free, lest he 
should look her sternly in the face. All the world had frowned on her 
— ^for seven long years had it frowned upon this lonely woman — and 
still she bote it all, nor ever once turned away her firm, sad eyes. But 
the frown of this pale, weak, sinful, and sorrow-stricken man was 
what Hester could not bear and live! 

“Wilt thou yet for^ve me!” she repeated, over and over again. 
“Wilt thou not frown? Wilt thou forgive?” 

“1 do forgive you, Hester,” replied the minister, at length, wiffi a 
deep utterance, out of av abyss of sadness, but no anger. “I fiedy 
forgive you now. May God forgave us both! We are not, Hester, the 
worst sinners in the world. There is one worse than even the polluted 
priest! That old man’s revenge has been blacker than my sin. He has 


Nathaniel Hawthorne 
violated, in cold blood, the sanctity of a human heart. Thou and 1, 
Hester, never did so!” 

“Never, never!” whispered she. “What we did had a consecration 
of its own. We felt it so! We said so to each other! Hast thou forgotten 

“Hush, Hester!” said Arthur Dimmesdale, rising from the ground. 
“No; I have not forgotten!” 

They sat down again, side by side, and hand ddsped in hand, on 
the mossy trunk of the fallen tree. Life had never brought them a 
gloomier hour; it was the point whither their pathway had so long 
been tending, and darkening ever, as it stole along; and yet it en- 
closed a charm that made them linger upon it, and claim another, 
and another, and, after all, another moment. The forest was obscure 
around them, and creaked with a blast that was passing through it. 
The boughs were tossing heavily above their heads; while one solemn 
old tree groaned dolefully to another, as if telling the sad story of the 
pair that sat beneath, or constrained to forbode evil to come. 

And yet they lingered. How dreary looked the forest track that led 
backward to the settlement, where Hester Prynne must take up again 
the burden of her ignominy, and the minister the hollow mockery of 
his good name! So they lingered an instant longer. No golden light 
had ever been so precious as the gloom of this dark forest. Here, seen 
only by his eyes, the scarlet letter need not bum into the bosom of 
the fallen woman! Here, seen only by her eyes, Arthur Dimmesdale, 
false to God and man, might be, for one moment, true! 

He started at a thought that suddenly occurred to him. 

“Hester,” cried he, “here is a new horror! Roger ChiUingworth 
knows your purpose to reveal lus true character. Will he continue, 
then, to keep our secret? What will now be the course of his re- 

“There is a strange secrecy in his nature,” replied Hester, thougjht- 
fully; “and it has grown upon him by the hidden practices of his re- 
venge. I deem it not likely that he will betray the secret. He will 
doubtless seek other means of satiating his dark passion.” 

“And I! — how am 1 to live longer, breathing the same air with this 
deadly enemy?” exclaimed Arthur Dimmesdale, shrinking within 
himself, and pressing his hand nervously against his heart — a gesture 
that had grown involuntary with him. “Think of me, Hester! Thou 
art strong. Resolve for me!” 

“Thou must dwell no longer with this man,” said Hestrt, slowly 
and firmly. “Thy heart must be no longer under his evil eye!” 


The Scarlet Letter 

“It were far worse than death!” replied the minister. “But how to 
avoid it? What choice remains to me? Shall 1 lie down again on these 
withered leaves, where I cast myself when thou didst tell me what he 
was? Must I sink down there, and die at once?” 

“Alas, what a ruin has befallen thee!” said Hester, with the tears 
gushing into her eyes. “Wilt thou die for very weakness? There is no 
other cause!” 

“The judgment of God is on me,” answered the conscience-stricken 
priest. “It is too mighty for me to struggle with!” 

“Heaven would show mercy,” rejoined Hester, “hadst thou but 
the strength to take advantage of it.” 

“Be thou strong for me!” answered he. “Advise me what to do.” 

“Is the world, then, so narrow?” exclaimed Hester Prynne, fixing 
her deep eyes on the minister’s, and instinctively exercising a mag- 
netic power over a spirit so shattered and subdued that it could hardly 
hold itself erect. “Doth the universe lie within the compass of yonder 
town, which only a little time ago was but a leaf-strewn desert, as 
lonely as this around us? Whither leads yonder forest-track? Back- 
ward to the settlement, thou sayest! Yes; but onward, too. Deeper it 
goes, and deeper, into the wilderness, less plainly to be seen at every 
step until, some few miles hence the yellow leaves will show no ves- 
tige of the white man’s tread. There thou art free! So brief a journey 
would bring thee from a world where thou hast been most wretched, 
to one where thou mayest stiU be happy! Is there not shade enough 
in all this boundless forest to hide thy heart from the gaze of Rogpr 

“Yes, Hester; but only under the fallen leaves!” replied the minis- 
ter, with a sad smile. 

“Then there is the broad pathway of the sea!” continued Hester, 
“it brought thee hither. If Aou so choose, it will bear thee back 
again. In our native land, whether in some remote rural village or in 
vast London — or, surely, in Germany, in France, in pleasant Italy — 
thou wouldst be beyond his power and knowledge! And what hast 
thou to do with all these iron men, and their opinions? They have 
kept thy better part in bondage too long already!” 

“It cannot be!” answered the minister, listening as if he were called 
upon to realize a dream. “I am powerless to go! Wretched and sinful 
as I am, I have had no other thought than to drag <mi my earthly ex.- 
istence in the sphere where Providence hath placed me. Lost as my 
soul is, I would still do what I may for other human souls! I dare not 
quit my post, thou^ an unfaithful sentinel, whose sure reward is 


Nathaniel Hawthorne 

death and dishonor, when his dreary watch shall come to an end!” 

“Thou art crashed under this seven years’ weight of misery,” re- 
plied Hester, fervently resolved to buoy him up with her own energy. 

“But thou shalt leave it all behind thee! It shall not cumber thy 
steps, as thou treadest along the forest path; neither shalt thou freight 
the ship with it, if thou prefer to cross the sea. Leave this wreck and 
ruin here where it hath happened. Meddle no moVd'with it! Be^ all 
anew! Hast thou exhausted possibility in the failure of this one trial? 
Not so! The future is yet full of trial and success. There is happiness 
to be enjoyed! There is good to be done! Exchange this false life of 
thine for a true one. Be, if thy spirit summon thee to such a mission, 
the teacher and apostle of the red men. Or — as is more thy nature — 
be a scholar and a sage among the wisest and most renowned of the 
cultivated world. Preach! Write! Act! Do anything, save to lie down 
and die! Give up this name of Arthur Dimmesdale, and make thyself 
another, and a high one, such as thou canst wear without fear or 
shame. Why shoul^t thou tarry so much as one other day in the tor- 
ments that have so gnawed into thy life! — that have made thee feeble 
to will and to do! — ^that will leave thee powerless even to repent! Up, 
and away” 

“O Hester!” cried Arthur Dimmesdale, in whose eyes a fitful light, 
kindled by her enthusiasm, flashed up and died away, “thou tellest 
of running a race to a man whose knees are tottering beneath him! I 
must die here! There is not the strength or courage left me to venture 
into the wide, strange, difficult world, alone!” 

It was the last expression of the despondency of a broken spirit. 
He lacked energy to grasp the better fortune that seemed within his 

He repeated the word. 

“Alone, Hester!” 

“Thou shalt not go alone!” answered she, in a deep jwhisper. 

Then, all was spoken! 

A Flood of Sunshine 

A rthur dimmesdale gazed into Hester’s face vnth a look in 
L which hope and joy shone out, indeed, but with fear betwixt 
them, and a kind of horror at her boldness, who had spoken what he 
vaguely hinted at but dared not speak. 


The Scarlet Letter 

But Hester Prynne, with a mind of native courage and activity, 
and for so long a period not merely estranged, but outlawed, from 
society, had habituated herself to such latitude of speculation as was 
altogether foreign to the clergyman. She had wandered, without rule 
or guidance, in a moral wilderness; as vast, as intricate and shadowy, 
as Ae untamed forest, amid the gioom of which they were now hol^ 
ing a colloquy that was to decide their fate. Her intellect and heart 
had their home, as it were, in desert places, where she roamed as 
freely as the wild Indian in his woods. For years past she had looked 
from this estranged point of view at human institutions, and what- 
ever priests or legislators had established; criticizing all with hardly 
more reverence than the Indian would feel for the clerical band, the 
judicial robe, the pillory, the gallows, the fireside, or the church. The 
tendency of her fate and fortunes had been to set her free. The scarlet 
letter was her passport into regions where other women dared not 
tread. Shame, Despair, Solitude! These had been her teachers — 
stem and wild ones — and they had made her strong, but taught her 
much amiss. 

The minister, on the other hand, had never gone through an ex- 
perience calculated to lead him beyond the scope of generally received 
laws; although, in a single instance, he had so fearfully transgressed 
one of the most sacred of them. But this had been a sin of passion, 
not of principle, nor even purpose. Since that wretched epoch, he 
had watched, with morbid zeal and minuteness, not his acts — ^for 
those it was easy to arrange — ^but each breath of emotion, and his 
every thought. At the head of the social system, as the clergymen 
of that day stood, he was only the more trammeled by its regulations, 
its principles, and even its prejudices. As a priest, the framework of 
his order inevitably hemmed him in. As a man who had once sinned, 
but who kept his conscience all alive and painfully sensitive by the 
fretting of an unhealed wound, he might have been supposed safer 
within the line of virtue than if he had never sinned at all. 

Thus, we seem to see that, as regarded Hester Prynne, the whole 
seven years of outlaw and ignominy had been little other than a prep- 
aration for this very hour. But Arthur Dimmesdalel Were such a 
man once more to fall, what plea could be urged in extenuation of his 
crime? None; unless it avail him somewhat, that he was brokmi 
down by long and exquisite suffering; that his mind was darkened 
and confused by the very remorse which harrowed it; that between 
fleeing as an avowed criminal, and remaining as a hypocrite, con- 
science mi^t iflnd it hard to strike the balance, that it was humw to 


Nathaniel Hawthorne 
avoid the peril of death and infamy, and the inscrutable machina- 
tions of an enemy; that, finally, to this poor pilgrim, on his dreary and 
desert path, faint, sick, miserable, there appeared a glimpse of hu- 
man affection and sympathy, a new life, and a true one, in exchange 
for the heavy doom which he was now expiating. And be the stem 
and sad troth spoken, that the breach which guilt has once made into 
the human soul is never, in this mortal state, repmred. It may be 
watched and guarded; so that the enemy shall not force his way 
again into the citadel, and might even, in Us subsequent assaults, se- 
lect some other avenue, in preference to that where he had formerly 
succeeded. But there is still the ruined wall, and, near it, the stealthy 
tread of the foe that would win over again Us unforgotten triumph. 

The struggle, if it were one, need not be described. Let it suffice, 
that the clergyman resolved to flee, and not alone. 

“If, in all ffiese past seven years,” thought he, “I could recall one 
instant of peace or hope, 1 would yet endure for the sake of that 
earnest of Heaven’s mercy. But now — since I am irrevocably 
doomed — wherefore should I not snatch the solace allowed to the 
condemned culprit before his execution? Or, if this be the path to a 
better life, as Hester would persuade me, I surely give up no fairer 
prospect by pursuing it! Neither can 1 any longer live without her 
compamonsUp; so powerful is she to sustain — so tender to soothe! O 
Thou to whom I dare not lift mine eyes, wUt Thou yet pardon me!” 

“Thou wilt go!” said Hester, calmly, as he met her glance. 

The decision once made, a glow of strange enjoyment threw its 
flickering brightness over the trouble of his breast. It was the exhila- 
rating effect — ^upon a prisoner just escaped from the dungeon of his 
own heart — of breathing the wild, free atmosphere of an unre- 
deemed, unchristianized, lawless re^on. His spirit rose, as it were, 
with a bound, and attained a nearer prospect of the sky, than 
throughout all the misery which had kept him groveling on the earth. 
Of a deeply religious temperament, there was inevital% a tinge of 
the devotional in his mood. 

“Do I feel joy again?” cried he, wondering at himself. “Methought 
the germ of it was dead in me! O Hester, thou art my better angel! I 
seemed to have flung myself — sick, sin-stained, and sorrow-blackened 
— down upon these forest leaves, and to have risen up all made 
anew, and with new powers to ^orify Him that hath been merciful! 
This is already the better life! Why did we not find it sooner?” 

“Let us not lotdc back,” answered Hester Prynne. “The’ past is 


The Scarlet Letter 

gone! Wherefore should we linger upon it now? Seel With this sym- 
bol, I undo it all, and make it as it had never been!” 

So speaking, she undid the clasp that fastened the scarlet letter, 
and, taking it from her bosom, threw it to a distance among the 
withered leaves. The mystic token alighted on the hither verge of the 
stream. With a hand’s breadth farther flight it would have fallen into 
the water, and have given the little brook another woe to carry on- 
ward, besides the unintelligible tale which it still kept murmuring 
about. But there lay the embroidered letter, glittering like a lost jewel, 
which some ill-fated wanderer might pick up, and thenceforth be 
haunted by strange phantoms of guilt, sinkings of the heart, and un- 
accountable misfortune. 

The stigma gone, Hester heaved a long, deep si^, in which the 
burden of shame and anguish departed from her spirit. Oh exquisite 
relief! She had not known the weight, until she felt the freedom! 
By another impulse, she took off the formal cap that confined her 
hair; and down it fell upon her shoulders, dark and rich, with at once 
a shadow and a light in its abundance, and imparting the charm of 
softness to her features. There played around her mouth, and beamed 
out of her eyes, a radiant and tender smile, that seemed gushing from 
the very heart of womanhood. A crimson flush was glowing on her 
cheek, that had been long so pale. Her sex, her youth, and the whole 
richness of her beauty, came back from what men call the irrevoca- 
ble past, and clustered themselves, with her maiden hope, and a hap- 
piness before unknown, within the magic circle of this hour. And, as 
if the gloom of the earth and sky had been but the effluence of these 
two mortal hearts, it vanished with their sorrow. All at once, as with 
a sudden smile of heaven, forth burst the sunshine, pouring a very 
flood into the obscure forest, gladdening each green leaf, transmut- 
ing the yellow faUen ones to gold, and gleaming adown the gray 
trunks of the solemn trees. The objects that had made a shadow 
hitherto, embodied the brightness now. The course of the little brook 
mi ght be traced by its merry gleam afar into the wood’s heart of 
mystery, which had become a mystery of joy. 

Such was the sympathy of Nature— that wild, heathen Nature of 
the forest, never subjugated by human law, nor illumined by hi^er 
truth— with the bliss of these two spirits! Love, whether newly bwm, 
or aroused from a deathlike slumber, must always create a sunshine, 
fflling the heart so full of radiance, that it overflows upon the out- 
ward world. Had the forest still kept its gloom, it would have 


Nathaniel Hawthorne 

been bright in Hester’s eyes, and bright in Arthur Dunmesdale’s! 

Hester looked at him with the thrill of another joy. 

“Thou must know Pearl!” said she. “Our little Pearl! Thou hast 
seen her — ^yes, I know it! — but thou wilt see her now with other eyes. 
She is a strange child! I hardly comprehend her! But thou wilt love 
her dearly, as I do, and wilt advise me how to deal with her.” 

“Dost thou think the child will be glad to kiibw me?” asked the 
minister, somewhat uneasily. “I have long shrunk from children, be- 
cause they often show a distrust — a backwardness to be familiar 
with me. I have even been afraid of little Pearl!” 

“Ah, that was sad!” answered the mother. “But she will love thee 
dearly, and thou her. She is not far off. I will call her! Pearl! Pearl!” 

“I see the child,” observed the minister. “Yonder she is, standing 
in a streak of sunshine, a good way off, on the other side of the 
brook. So thou thinkest the child will love me?” 

Hester smiled, and again called to Pearl, who was visible, at some 
distance, as the minister had described her, like a bright-appareled 
vision, in a sunbeam, which fell down upon her through an arch of 
boughs. The ray quivered to and fro, making her figure dim or dis- 
tinct — ^now like a real child, now like a child’s spirit — as the splendor 
went and came again. She heard her mother’s voice, and approached 
slowly through the forest. . . . 

Slowly; for she saw the clergyman. 


The Child at the Brookside 

T hou wilt love her dearly,” repeated Hester Prynne, as she and 
the minister sat watching little Pearl. “Dost thou not think her 
beautiful? And see with what natural skill she has made.ihose simple 
flowers adorn her! Had she gathered pearls, and diamonds and rubies, 
in the wood, they could not have become her better. She is a splendid 
child! But I know whose brow she has!” 

“Dost thou know, Hester,” said Arthur Dimmesdale, with an un- 
quiet smile, “that this dear child, tripping about always at thy side, 
hath caused me many an alarm? Methought — O Hester, what a 
thought is that, and how terrible to dread it! — ^that tny own features 
were partly repeated in her face, and so strikingly that the world might 
see them! But she is mostly thine!” 


The Scarlet Letter 

“No, no! Not mostly!” answered the mother, with a tender smile. 
“A little longer, and thou needest not to be afraid to trace whose child 
she is. But how strangely beautiful she looks, with those wild flowers 
in her hair! It is as if one of the fairies, whom we left in our dear old 
England, had decked her out to meet us.” 

It was with a feeling which neither of them had ever before experi- 
enced that they sat and watched Pearl’s slow advance. In her was 
visible the tie that united them. She had been offered to the world, 
these seven years past, as the living hieroglyphic, in which was re- 
vealed the secret they so darkly sought to hide — all written in this 
symbol — all plainly manifest — ^had there been a prophet or ma^cian 
skilled to read the character of flame! And Pearl was the oneness of 
their being. Be the foregone evil what it might, how could they doubt 
that their earthly lives and future destinies were conjoined, when they 
beheld at once the material union, and the spiritual idea, in whom 
they met, and were to dwell immortally together? Thoughts like these 
— and perhaps other thoughts, which they did not acknowledge or 
define — ^threw an awe about the child as she came onward. 

“Let her see nothing strange — ^no passion nor eagerness — ^in thy 
way of accosting her,” whispered Hester. “Our Pearl is a fitful and 
fantastic little elf, sometimes. Especially she is seldom tolerant of 
emotion, when she does not fully comprehend the why and wherefore. 
But the child hath strong affections! She loves me, and wfll love thee!” 

“Thou canst not think,” said the minister, glancing aside at Hester 
Prynne, “how my heart dreads this interview, and yearns for it! But, 
in truth, as I already told thee, children are not readily won to 
be familiar with me. They will not climb my knee, nor prattle in my 
ear, nor answer to my smile; but stand apart, and eye me strangely. 
Even little babes, when I take them in my arms, weep bitterly. 
Yet Pearl, twice in her little lifetime, hath been kind to me! The first 
time — ^thou knowest it well! The last was when thou ledst her. with 
thee to the house of yonder stem old Governor.” 

“And thou didst plead so bravely in her behalf and mine!” an- 
swered the mother. “1 remember it; and so shall little Pearl. Fear 
nothing! She may be strange and shy at first, but will soon learn to 
love thee!” 

By this time Pearl had reached the mar^ of the brook, and stood 
on the farther side, gazing silently at Hester and the dergnnan, who 
still sat together on the mossy tree trunk, waiting to receive her. Just 
where she had paused, the brook chanced to form a pool, so smooth 


Nathaniel Hawthorne 
and quiet that it reflected a perfect image of her little figure, with all 
the brilliant picturesqueness of her beauty, in its adornment of flowers 
and wreathed foliage, but more refined and spiritualized than the 
reality. This image, so nearly identical with the living Pearl, seemed to 
communicate somewhat of its own shadowy and intangible quality to 
the child herself. It was strange, the way in which Pearl stood, loo^ng 
so steadfastly at them through the dim medium of .the forest gloom; 
herself, meanwhile, all glorified with a ray of simshine that was at- 
tracted thitherward as by a certain sympathy. In the brook beneath 
stood another child — another and the same — ^with likewise its ray 
of golden light. Hester felt herself, in some indistinct and tantalizing 
manner, estranged from Pearl; as if the child, in her lonely ramble 
through the forest, had strayed out of the sphere in which she and 
her mother dwelt together, and was now vainly seeking to return to it. 

Hiere was both truth and error in the impression; the child and 
mother were estranged, but through Hester’s fault, not Pearl’s. Since 
the latter rambled from her side, another inmate had been admitted 
within the circle of the mother’s feelings, and so modified the aspect of 
them all, that Pearl, the returning wanderer, could not find her wonted 
place, and hardly knew where she was. 

‘T have a strange fancy,” observed the sensitive minister, “that this 
brook is the boundary between two worlds, and that thou canst never 
meet thy Pearl again. Or is she an elfish spirit, who, as the legends of 
our childhood taught us, is forbidden to cross a running stream? Pray 
hasten her; for this delay has already imparted a tremor to my nerves.” 

“Come, dearest child!” said Hester, encouragingly, and stretching 
out both her arms. “How slow thou art! When hast thou been so 
sluggish before now? Here is a friend of mine, who must be thy friend 
also. Thou wilt have twice as much love, henceforward, as thy mother 
alone could give thee! Leap across the brook, and come to us. Thou 
canst leap like a young deer!” 

Pearl, without responding in any manner to these honey-sweet ex- 
pressions, remained on the other side of the brook. Now she fixed 
her bright, wild eyes on her mother, now on the minister, and now 
included them both in the same glance; as if to detect and explain to 
herself the relation which they bore to one another. For some unac- 
countable reason, as Arthur Dimmesdale felt the child’s eyes upon 
him, his hand — ^with that gesture so habitual as to have become in- 
voluntary — stde over his heart. At length, assuming a singular air of 
authori^. Pearl stretched out her hand, with the small forager ex- 


The Scarlet Letter 

tended, and pointing evidently toward her mother’s breast. And be- 
neath, in the mirror of the brook, there was the flower-g^dled and 
sunny image of little Pearl, pointing her small forefinger too. 

“Thou strange child, why dost thou not come to me?” exclaimed 

Pearl still pointed with her forefinger; and a frown gathered on her 
brow; the more impressive from the childish, the almost babylike 
aspect of the features that conveyed it. As her mother still kept 
beckoning to her, and arraying her face in a holiday suit of unaccus- 
tomed smiles, the child stamped her foot with a yet more imperious 
look and gesture. In the brook, again, was the fantastic beauty of the 
image, with its refiected frown, its pointed finger, and imperious ges- 
ture, giving emphasis to the aspect of little Pearl. 

“Hasten, Pearl; or I shall be angry with thee!” said Hester Prynne, 
who, however inured to such behavior on the elf-chfld’s part at other 
seasons, was naturally anxious for a more seemly deportment now. 
“Leap across the brook, naughty child, and run hither! Else I must 
come to thee!” 

But Pearl, not a whit startled at her mother’s threats any more than 
mollified by her entreaties, now suddenly burst into a fit of passion, 
gesticulating violently and throwing her small figure into the most ex- 
travagant contortions. She accompanied this wild outbreak with 
piercing shrieks, which the woods reverberated on all sides; so that, 
alone as she was in her childish and unreasonable wrath, it seemed as 
if a hidden multitude were lending her their sympathy and encourage- 
ment. Seen in the brook, once more, was the shadowy wrath of 
Pearl’s image, crowned and girdled with flowers, but stamping its foot, 
wildly gesticulating, and, in the midst of aU, still pointing its small 
forefinger at Hester’s bosom! 

“I see what ails the child,” whispered Hester to the clergyman,, and 
turning pale in spite of a strong effort to conceal her trouble and an- 
noyance. “Children will not abide any, the slightest, change in the 
accustomed aspect of things that are daily before their eyes. Pearl 
misses something which she has always seen me wear!” 

“I pray you,” answered the minister, “if thou hast any means of 
pacifying the child, do it forthwith! Save it were the cankered wrath of 
an old witch, like Mistress Hibbins,” added he, attempting to smile, 
‘T know nothing that 1 would not sooner encounter than this passion 
in a child. In Pearl’s young beauty, as in the wrinkled witch, it has a 
preternatural effect. Pacify her, if thou lovest me!” 


Nathaniel Hawthorne 

Hester turned again toward Pearl, with a crimson blush upon her 
cheek, a conscious glance aside at the clergyman, and then a heavy 
sigh; while, even before she had time to speak, the blush yielded to a 
deadly pallor. 

“Pearl,” said she, sadly, “look down at thy feet! There! — ^before 
thee! — on the hither side of the brook!” 

The child turned her eyes to the point indicateid; and there lay the 
scarlet letter, so close upon the margin of the stream, that the gold 
embroidery was reflected in it. 

“Bring it hither!” said Hester. 

“Come thou and take it up!” answered Pearl. 

“Was ever such a child!” observed Hester, aside to the minister. 
“Oh, I have much to tell thee about her! But, in very truth, she is 
right as regards this hateful token. I must bear its torture yet a little 
longer — only a few days longer — ^until we shall have left this region 
and look back hither as to a land which we have dreamed of. The 
forest cannot hide it! The mid-ocean shall take it from my hand, and 
swallow it up forever!” 

With these words, she advanced to the margin of the brook, took 
up the scarlet letter, and fastened it again into her bosom. Hopefully, 
but a moment ago, as Hester had spoken of drowning it in the deep 
sea, there was a sense of inevitable doom upon her, as she thus 
received back this deadly symbol from the hand of fate. She had flung 
it into infinite space! — she had drawn an hour’s free breath! — and 
here again was the scarlet misery, glittering on the old spot! So it ever 
is, whether thus typified or no, ^at an evil deed invests itself with the 
character of doom. Hester next gathered up the heavy tresses of her 
hair , and confined them beneath her cap. As if there were a withering 
spell in the sad letter, her beauty, the warmth and richness of her 
womanhood, departed, like fading sunshine; and a gray shadow 
seemed to fall across her. ~ 

When the dreary changp was wioug|ht, she extended her hand to 

“Dost thou know thy mother now, chfld?” asked she, reproachfully,, 
but with a subdued tone. “Wilt thou come across the brook, and own 
thy mother, now that she has her shame upon her — ^now that she is 

“Yes; now I will!” answered the diild, bounding across the brook, 
and clasping Hester in her arms. “Now thou art my mottun indeed! 
And 1 am thy little Pearl!” 


The Scarlet Letter 

In a mood of tenderness that was not unusual with her, she drew 
down her mother’s head, and kissed her brow and both her cheeks. 
But then — by a kind of necessity that always impelled this child to 
alloy whatever comfort she might chance to give with a throb of an- 
guish — ^Pearl put up her mouth, and kissed the scarlet letter too! 

“That was not kind!” said Hester. “When thou hast shown me a 
little love, thou mockest me!” 

“Why doth the minister sit yonder?” asked Pearl. 

“He waits to welcome thee,” replied her mother. “Come thou, and 
entreat his blessing! He loves thee, my little Pearl, and loves thy 
mother too. Wilt thou not love him? Come! he longs to greet thee!” 

“Doth he love us?” said Pearl, looking up, with acute intelligence, 
into her mother’s face. “Will he go back with us, hand in hand, we 
three together, into the town?” 

“Not now, my dear child,” answered Hester. “But in days to come, 
he will walk hand in hand with us. We will have a home and fireside 
of our own; and thou shalt sit upon his knee; and he will teach thee 
many things, and love thee dearly. Thou wilt love him; wilt thou not?” 

“And will he always keep his hand over his heart?” inquired 

“Foolish child, what a question is that!” exclaimed her mother. 
“Come and ask his blessing!” 

But, whether influenced by the jealousy that seems instinctive with 
every petted child toward a dangerous rival, or from whatever caprice 
of her freakish nature. Pearl would show no favor to the clergyman. 
It was only by an exertion of force that her mother brought her up to 
him, hanging back, and manifesting her reluctance by odd grimaces; 
of which, ever since her babyhood, she had possessed a singular 
variety, and could transform her mobile physiognomy into a series of 
different aspects, with a new mischief in them, each and all. The min- 
ister — ^pmi^lly embarrassed, but hoping that a kiss mi^t prove a 
talisman to admit him into the child’s kindlier regards — ^bent forward, 
and impressed one on her brow. Hereupon, Pearl broke away from 
her mother, and, running to the brook, stooped over it, and bathed 
her fordiead, until the unwelcome kiss was quite washed off, and 
diffused throu^ a long lapse of the gjliding water. She then remained 
apart, silently watching Hester and the clergyman; while they talked 
together, and made such arrangemmits as were suggested by their new 
position, and the purposes soon to be fulfilled. 

And now this fateful inter^dew had come to a close. The dell was to 


Nathaniel Hawthorne 
be left a solitude among its dark, old trees, which, with their multi- 
tudinous tongues, would whisper long of what had passed there, and 
no mortal be the wiser. And the melancholy brook would add this 
other tale to the mystery with which its little heart was already over- 
burdened, and whereof it still kept up a murmuring babble, with not 
a whit more cheerfulness of tone than for ages heretofore. 

* ‘S* 


The Minister in a Maze 

A s THE MINISTER DEPARTED, in advance of Hester Prynne and little 
k Pearl, he threw a backward glance, half expecting that he should 
discover only some faintly traced features or outline of the mother 
and the child slowly fading into the twilight of the woods. So great a 
vicissitude in his life could not at once be received as real. But there 
was Hester, clad in her gray robe, still standing beside the tree trunk, 
which some blast had overthrown a long antiquity ago, and which time 
had ever since been covering with moss, so that these two fated ones, 
with earth’s heaviest burden on them, might there sit down together, 
and find a single hour’s rest and solace. And there was Pearl, too, 
lightly dancing from the margin of the brook — now that the intrusive 
third person was gone — and taking her old place by her mother’s side. 

' So the minister had not fallen asleep and dreamed! 

In order to free his mind from this indistinctness and duplicity of 
impression, which vexed it with a strange disquietude, he recalled and 
more thoroughly defined the plans which Hester and himself had 
sketched for their departure. It had been determined between them 
that the Old World, with its crowds and cities, offered them a more 
eligible shelter and concealment than the wilds of New En^and, or all 
America, with its alternatives of an Indian wigwam, or the few settle- 
ments of Europeans, scattered thinly along the seaboard.~Not to speak 
of the clergyman’s health, so inadequate to sustain the hardships of a 
forest life, his native gifts, his culture, and his entire development 
would secure him a home only in the midst of civilization and refine- 
ment; the higher the state, the more delicately adapted to it the man. 
In fmtherance of this choice, it so happened that a ship lay in the 
harbor, one of those questionable cruisers, frequent at that day, 
which, without being absolutely outlaws of the deep, yet roamed over 
its surface with a remarkable irresponsibility of character. This vessel 


The Scarlet Letter 

had recently arrived from the Spanish Main, and, within three days’ 
time, would sail for Bristol. Hester Prynne — whose vocation, as a 
self-enlisted Sister of Charity, had brought her acquainted with the 
captain and crew— could take upon herself to secure the passage of 
two individuals and a child, with all the secrecy which circ umsta nces 
rendered more than desirable. 

The minister had inquired of Hester, with no little interest, the 
precise time at which the vessel might be expected to depart. It would 
probably be on the fourth day from the present. “That is most fortu- 
nate!” he had then said to himself. Now, why the Reverend Mr. 
Dimmesdale considered it so very fortunate, we hesitate to reveal. 
Nevertheless — ^to hold nothing back from the reader — ^it was because, 
on the third day from the present, he was to preach the Election 
Sermon; and as such an occasion formed an honorable epoch in the 
life of a New England clergyman, he could not have chanced upon a 
more suitable mode and time of terminating his professional career. 
“At least, they shall say of me,” thought this exemplary man, “that I 
leave no pubUc duty unperformed, nor ill performed!” Sad, indeed, 
that an introspection so profound and acute as this poor minister’s 
should be so miserably deceived! We have had, and may still have, 
worse things to tell of him; but none, we apprehend, so pitiably weak; 
no evidence, at once so slight and irrefragable, of a subtle disease, that 
had long since begun to eat into the real substance of his character. 
No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself, 
and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to 
which may be the true. 

The excitement of Mr. Dimmesdale’s feelings, as he returned from 
his interview with Hester, lent him unaccustomed physical energy, 
and hurried him townward at a rapid pace. The pathway among the 
woods seemed wilder, more uncouth with its rude natural obstacles, 
and less trodden by the foot of man, than he remembered it on his 
outward journey. But he leaped across the plashy places, dirust him- 
self through the clinging underbrush, climbed the ascent, plunged into 
the hollow, and overcame, in short, all the difficulties of the track, 
with an imweariable activity that astonished him. . . . 

Before Mr. Dimmesdale reached home, his inner man gave him 
other evidences of a revolution in the sphere of thought and feeling. 
In truth, nothing short of a total change of dynasty and moral code, 
in that interior kingdom, was adequate to account for the impulse 
now cominunicated to the unfortunate and startled minister. At every 


Nathaniel Hawthorne 
step he was incited to do some strange, wild, wicked thing or other, 
with a sense that it would be at once involuntary and intentional; in 
spite of himself, yet growing out of a profounder self than that which 
opposed the impulse. For instance, he met one of his own deacons. 
The good old man addressed him with the paternal affection and 
patriarchal privilege, which his venerable age, ^hi$ upright and holy 
character, and his station in the Church, entitled him to use; and, 
conjoined with this, the deep, almost worshipping respect, which the 
minister’s profession^ and private claims alike demanded. . . . 
During a conversation of some two or three moments between the 
Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale and this excellent and hoary-bearded dea- 
con, it was only by the most careful self-control that the former could 
refrain from uttering certain blasphemous suggestions that rose into 
his mind, respecting the communion supper. He absolutely trembled 
and turned pale as ashes, lest his tongue should wag itself, in utter- 
ance of these horrible matters, and plead his own consent for so do- 
ing, without his having fairly given it. And, even with this terror in 
his heart, he could hardly avoid laughing, to imagine how the sancti- 
fied old patriarchal deacon would have been petrified by his minis- 
ter’s impiety! 

Again, another incident of the same nature. Hurrying along the 
street, the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale encountered the eldest female 
member of his church; a most pious and exemplary old dame; poor, 
widowed, lonely, and with a heart as full of reminiscences about her 
dead husband and children, and her dead friends of long ago, as a 
burial-ground is full of storied gravestones. . . . Since Mr. Dimmes- 
dale had taken her in charge, the good grandam’s chief earthly com- 
fort — ^which, unless it had been likewise a heavenly comfort, could 
have been none at all — ^was to meet her pastor, whether casually, or 

ryf crfSkf mirrkr\c» anH uritli ei rtf u/earm fraorcint 

lavcarwAi-LfAwaLaiiix^ vauua^ juivtaxa aaao t/wtwwva uavv/ 

but rapturously attentive ear. But, on this occasion, up to the mo- 
ment of putting his lips to the old woman’s ear, Mr. Dimmesdale, as 
the ^eat enemy of souls would have it, could recall no text of Scrip- 
ture, nor aught else, except a brief, pithy, and, as it then appeared 
to him, unanswerable argument against the immorality of the human 
soul. The instilment thereof into her mind would probably have 
caused this aged sister to drop down dead at once, as by the effect of 
an intoisely poisonous infusion. When he really did whisper, tl^ 
minister could never afterward recollect. Hiere was, perhaps, a for- 


The Scarlet Letter 

tunate disorder in his utterance, which failed to impart any distinct 
idea to the good widow’s comprehension, or which Providence inter- 
preted after a method of its own. Assuredly, as the minister looked 
back, he beheld an expression of divine gratitude and ecstasy that 
seemed like the shine of the celestial city on her face, so wrinkled 
and ashy pale. 

Again a third instance. After parting from the old church-member, 
he met the youngest sister of them all. It was a maiden newly won — 
and won by the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale’s own sermon, on the 
Sabbath after his vigil — to barter the transitory pleasures of the world 
for the heavenly hope, that was to assume brighter substance as life 
grew dark around her, and which would gild the utter ^oom with 
final glory. She was fair and pure as a lily that had bloomed in Para- 
dise. The minister knew well that he was himself enshrined within 
the stainless sanctity of her heart, which hung its snowy curtains about 
his image, imparting to religion the warmth of love, and to love a 
religious purity. Satan, that afternoon, had surely led the poor young 
girl away from her mother’s side, and thrown her into the pathway of 
this sorely tempted, or — shall we not rather say? — this lost and des- 
perate man. As she drew nigh, the arch fiend whispered him to con- 
dense into small compass and drop into her tender bosom a germ of 
evil that would be sure to blossom darkly soon, and bear black fruit 
betimes. Such was his sense of power over this virgin soul, trusting 
him as she did, that the minister felt potent to blight all the field of 
innocence with but one wicked look, and develop all its opposite with 
but a word. So — ^with a mightier struggle than he had yet sustained — 
he held his Geneva cloak before his face, and hurried onward, mak- 
ing no sign of recognition, and leaving the young sister to digest his 
rudeness as she might. She ransacked her conscience— which was full 
of harmless little matters, like her pocket or her work bag — and took 
herself to task, poor thing! for a thousand imaginary faults; and' went 
about her household duties with swollen eyelids Ae next morning. 

Before the minister had time to celebrate his victory over this last 
temptation, he was conscious of another impulse, more ludicrous, 
and almost as horrible. It was — ^we blush to tell it — ^it was to stop 
short in the road, and teach some very mcked words to a knot of little 
Puritan (diildren who were jfiaying there, and had but just begun to 
talk. Denying himself fhis freak, as unworthy of his doth, he met a 
drunkoi seaman, one of the ship’s crew from the Spanish Main. An^ 
here, since he had so valiantly forborne an odier wickedness, poor 


Nathaniel Hawthorne 
Mr. Diminesdale longed, at least, to shake hands with the tarry black- 
guard, and recreate himself with a few improper jests, such as dis- 
solute sailors so abound with, and a volley of good, round, solid, 
satisfactory and heaven-defying oaths! It was not so much a better 
principle as partly his natural good taste, and still more his buck- 
ramed habit of clerical decorum, that carried him safely through the 
latter crisis. ’ '' 

“What is it that haunts and tempts me thus?” cried the minister to 
himself, at length, pausing in the street, and striking his hand against 
his forehead. “Am I mad? or am I given over utterly to the fiend? 
Did I make a contract with him in the forest, and sign it with my 
blood? And does he now summon me to its fulfillment by suggesting 
the performance of every wickedness which his most foul imagination 
can conceive?” 

At the moment when the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale thus com- 
muned with himself, and struck his forehead with his hand, old Mis- 
tress Hibbins, the reputed witch lady, is said to have been passing by. 
She made a very grand appearance; having on a high headdress, a 
rich gown of velvet, and a ruff done up with the famous yellow starch, 
of which Ann Turner, her especial friend, had taught her the secret, 
before this last good lady had been hanged for Sir Thomas Overbury’s 
murder. Whether the witch had read the minister’s thoughts or no, she 
came to a full stop, looked shrewdly into his face, smiled craftily, and 
— though little given to converse with clergymen — ^began a conversa- 

“So, Reverend Sir, you have made a visit into the forest,” observed 
the witch lady, nodding her high headdress at him. “The next time, 
l.pray you to allow me only a fair warning, and 1 shall be proud to 
bear you company. Without taking overmuch upon myself, my good 
word will go far toward gaining any strange gentleman a fair recep- 
tion from yonder potentate you wot of!” _ 

“I profess, madam,” answered the clergyman, with a grave obei- 
sance, such as the lady’s rank demanded, and his own good breeding 
made imperative — ^“I profess, on my conscience and character, that 
I am utterly bewildered as touching the purport of your words! I 
went not into the forest to seek a potentate; neither do I, at any fu- 
ture time, design a visit thither, with a view to gaining the favor of 
such a personage. My one sufficient object was to greet that pious 
friend of mine, the Apostle Eliot, and rejoice with him over-the many 
ptedous souls he hath won from heathendom!” 


The Scarlet Letter 

“Ha, ha, ha!” cackled the old witch lady, still nodding her high 
headdress at the minister. “Well, well, we must needs talk thus in the 
daytime! You carry it off like an old hand! But at midnight, and in 
the forest, we shall have other talk together!” 

She passed on with her aged stateliness, but often turning back her 
head and smiling at him, like one willing to recognize a secret inti- 
macy of connection. 

“Have I then sold myself,” thought the minister, “to the fiend 
whom, if men say true, this yellow-starched and velveted old hag has 
chosen for her prince and master!” 

The wretched minister! He had made a bargain very like it. 
Tempted by a dream of happiness, he had yielded himself, with de- 
liberate choice, as he had never done before, to what he knew was 
deadly sin. And the infectious poison of that sin had been thus rap- 
idly diffused throughout his moral system. It had stupefied all blessed 
impulses, and awakened into vivid life the whole brotherhood of bad 
ones. Scorn, bitterness, unprovoked malignity, gratuitous desire of 
ill, ridicule of whatever was good and holy, all awoke, to tempt, even 
while they frightened him. And his encounter with old Mistress Hib- 
bins, if it were a real incident, did but show his sympathy and fellow- 
ship with wicked mortals, and the world of perverted spirits. 

He had, by this time, reached his dwel^g, on the edge of the 
burial ground, and, hastening up the stairs, took refuge in his study. 
The minister was glad to have reached this shelter, without first be- 
traying himself to the world by any of those strange and wicked ec- 
centricities to which he had been continually impelled while passing 
through the streets. He entered the accustomed room, and looked 
around him on its books, its windows, its fireplace, and the tapestried 
comfort of the walls, with the same perception of strangeness that had 
haunted him throu^out his walk from ^e forest dell into the town, 
and thitherward. Here he had studied and written; here, gone through 
fast and vigil, and come forth half alive; here striven to pray; here, 
borne a hundred thousand agonies! There was the Bible, in its rich 
old Hebrew, with Moses and the Prophets speaking to him, and God’s 
voice through aU! There, on the table, with the inky pen beside it, 
was an unfinish ed sermon, with a sentence broken in the midst, where 
his thoughts had ceased to gush out upon the page, two days before. 
He knew that it was himself, the thin and white-cheeked minister, who 
had done and suffered these things, and written thus far into the Hlec- 
tion Sermon! But he seemed to stand apart, and eye this former s^ 


Nathaniel Hawthorne 
with scornful, pitying, but half-envious curiosi^. Hiat self was gone. 
Another man had returned out of the forest; a wiser one; with a 
knowledge of hidden mysteries which the simplicity of the former 
never could have reached. A bitter kind of knowledge that! 

While occupied with these reflections, a knock came at the door 
of the study, and the minister said, “Come in!” — ^not wholly devoid 
of an idea that he might behold an evil spirit. Aiid so he did! It was 
old Roger Chillingworth that entered. The minister stood, vdiite and 
speechless, with one hand on the Hebrew Scriptures, and the other 
spread upon his breast. 

“Welcome home, reverend Sir,” said the physician. “And how 
found you that godly man, the Apostle Eliot? But, methinks, dear 
Sir, you look pale; as if the travel through the wilderness had been 
too sore for you. Will not my aid be requisite to put you in heart and 
strength to preach your Election Sermon?” 

“Nay, I think not so,” rejoined the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale. 
“My journey, and the sight of the holy Apostle yonder, and the free 
air which I have breathed, have done me good, after so long con- 
finement in my study. I think to need no more of your drugs, my kind 
physician, good though they be, and administered by a friendly hand.” 

All this time, Roger Chillingworth was looking at the minister with 
the grave and intent regard of a physician toward his patient. But, 
in spite of this outward show, the latter was almost convinced of the 
old man’s knowledge, or, at least, his confident suspicion, with respect 
to his own interview with Hester Prynne. The physician knew then, 
that, in the minister’s regard, he was no longer a trusted friend, but 
his bitterest enemy. So much being known, it would appear natural 
that a part of it should be expressed. It is singular, however, how 
kmg a time often passes before words embody things; and with what 
security two persons, who choose to avtnd a certain subject, may 
approach its very verge, and retire without disturbing, it. Thus, the 
minister felt no apprehension that Roger Chillingworth woidd touch, 
in ex|>ress words, upon the real position which they sustained toward 
one another. Yet did the physician, in his dark way, creep frightfully 
near the secret. 

“Were it not better,” said he, “that you use my poor skill toni^t? 
Verily, dear Sir, we must take pdns to make you strtmg and vigorous 
for this occasion of the Election cHscourse. The people look for great 
filings from you; apprehending that another year may caaoc about, 
and find their pastor gone.” 


The Scarlet Letter 

“Yea, to another world,” replied the minister, with pious resigna- 
tion. “Heaven grant it be a better one; for, in good sooth, I hardly 
think to tarry with my flock through the flitting seasons of another 
year! But, touching your medicine, kind Sir, in my present frame of 
body, I need it not.” 

“I joy to hear it,” answered the physician. “It may be that my 
remedies, so long administered in vain, begin now to take due effect. 
Happy man were I, and well deserving New England’s gratitude, 
could I achieve this cure!” 

“I thank you from my heart, most watchful friend,” said the Rev- 
erend Mr. Dimmesdale, with a solemn smile. “I thank you, and can 
but requite your good deeds with my prayers.” 

“A good man’s prayers are golden recompense!” rejoined old 
Roger Chillingworth, as he took his leave. “Yea, they are the current 
gold coin of the New Jerusalem, with the King’s own mint mark on 

Left alone, the minister summoned a servant of the house, and 
requested food, which, being set before him, he ate with ravenous ap- 
petite. Then, flinging the already written pages of the Election Sermon 
into the fire, he forthwith began another, which he wrote with such im- 
pulsive flow of thought and emotion, that he fancied himself inspired; 
and only wondered that Heaven should see fit to transmit the grand 
and solemn music of its oracles through so foul an organ pipe as he. 
However, leaving that mystery to solve itself, or go unsolved forever, 
he drove his task onward, with earnest .haste and ecstasy. Thus the 
night fled away, as if it were a wing^ steed, and he careering on it; 
morning came, and peeped, blushing, through the curtains; and at 
last sunrise threw a golden beam into tiie study and laid it right across 
the minister’s bedazzled eyes. Tliere he was, with the pen still be- 
tween his fingers, and a vast, immeasurable tract of written space 
behind him! 


The New England Holiday 

B etimes in the mornino of tl» day on which the new Govemx 
was to receive his office at the hands (rf the people, Hester Prynne 
and little Peari came into the market place. It was already throi^ed 
wiffi the craftsmen and other plebeian inhabitants of the town, in ctm- 


Nathaniel Hawthorne 
siderable numbers; among whom, likewise, were many rough figures, 
whose attire of deerskins marked them as belonging to some of the 
forest settlements, which surrounded the little metropolis of the col- 

On this public holiday, as on all other occasions, for seven years 
past, Hester was clad in a garment of coarse gray cloth. . . . Her 
face, so long familiar to the townspeople, showed tb6 marble quietude 
which they were accustomed to behold there. It was like a mask; or, 
rather, like the frozen calmness of a dead woman’s features; owing 
this dreary resemblance to the fact that Hester was actually dead, in 
respect to any claim of sympathy, and had departed out of the world, 
with which she still seemed to mingle. 

It might be, on this one day, that there was an expression unseen 
before, nor, indeed, vivid enough to be detected, now; unless some 
pretematurally gifted observer should have first read the heart, and 
have afterward sought a corresponding development in the counte- 
nance and mien. Such a spiritual seer might have conceived, that, after 
sustaining the gaze of the multitude through seven miserable years 
as a necessity, a penance, and something which it was a stem religion 
to endure, she now, for one last time more, encountered it freely and 
voluntarily, in order to convert what had so long been agony into a 
kind of triumph. “Look your last on the scarlet letter and its wearer!’’ 
— the people’s victim and lifelong bond slave, as they fancied her, 
might say to them. “Yet a little while, and she will be beyond your 
reach! A few hours longer, and the deep mysterious ocean will quench 
and hide forever the symbol which ye have caused to bum upon her 
bosom!’’. . . 

Pearl was decked out with airy gayety. It would have been im- 
possible to guess that this bright and sunny apparition owed its exist- 
ence to the shape of gloomy gray. ... On this eventful day, more- 
over, there was a certain singular inquietude and excitement in her 
mood, resembling nothing so much as the shimmer of a diamond, 
that sparkles and flashes with the varied throbbings of the breast on 
udiich it is displayed. Children have always a sympathy in the agita- 
tions of those connected with them; always, especially, a sense of any 
trouble or impending revolution, of whatever kind, in domestic cir- 
cumstances; and therefore. Pearl, who was Ae gem on her mother’s 
unquiet bosom, betrayed, by the very dance of her spirits, the emo- 
tions which none could ^tect in the marble passiveness of fester’s 


The Scarlet Letter 

This effervescence made her flit with a birdlike movement, rather 
than walk by her mother’s side. She broke continually into shouts of 
a wild, inarticulate, and sometimes piercing music. When they 
reached the market place, she became still more restless, on perceiv- 
ing the stir and bustle that enlivened the spot; for it was usually more 
like the broad and lonesome green before a village meeting house, 
than the center of a town’s business. 

“. . . See, mother, how many faces of strange people, and Indians 
among them, and sailors! What have they all come to do, here in the 
market place?” 

“They wait to see the procession pass,” said Hester. “For the Gov- 
ernor and the magistrates are to go by, and the ministers, and all the 
great people and good people, with the music and the soldiers march- 
ing before them.” 

“And will the minister be there?” asked Pearl. “And will he hold 
out both his hands to me, as when thou ledst me to him from the 

“He will be there, child,” answered her mother. “But he will not 
greet thee today; nor must thou greet him.” 

“What a strange, sad man is he!” said the child, as if speaking 
partly to herself. “In the dark nighttime he calls us to him, and holds 
thy hand and mine, as when we stood with him on the scaffold yonder. 
And in the deep forest, where only the old trees can hear, and the 
strip of sky see it, he talks with thee, sitting on a heap of moss! And 
he kisses my forehead, too, so that the little brook would hardly wash 
it off! But here, in the sunny day, and among all the people, he knows 
us not; nor must we know him! A strange, sad man is he, with his 
hand always over his heart!” 

“Be quiet. Pearl! Thou understandest not these things,” said her 
mother. “Think not now of the minister, but look about thee, and 
see how cheery is everybody’s face today. ...” 

It was as Hester said, in regard to the unwonted jollity that bright- 
ened the faces of the people. . . . Here, it is true, were none of the 
appliances which popular merriment would so readily have found 
in the England of Elizabeth’s time, or that of James; no rude shows 
of the theatrical kind; no minstrel, with his harp and legendary ballad, 
nor glee-man, with an ape dancing to his music; no jug^er, with Ms 
tricks of mimic witchcraft; no Merry Andrew, to stir up the multi- 
tude with jests, perhaps hundreds of years old, but still effective, by 
their appeals to the very broadest sources of mirthful sympathy. AU 


Nathaniel Hawthorne 
such professors of the several branches of jocularity would have been 
sternly repressed, not only by the rigid discipline of law, but by the 
general sentiment which gives law its vitality. Not the less, however, 
the great, honest face of the people smiled, grimly, perhaps, but 
widely too. . . . 

The picture of human life in the market place, though its general 
tint was the sad gray, brown, or black of the En^lsh emigrants, was 
yet enlivened by some diversity of hue. A party of Indians — ^in their 
savage finery of curiously embroidered deerskin robes, wampum 
belts, red and yellow ocher, and feathers, and armed with the bow 
and arrow and stone-headed spear — stood apart, with countenances 
of inflexible gravity, beyond what even the Puritan aspect could 
attain. Nor, wild as were these painted barbarians, were they the 
wildest feature of the scene. This distinction could more jusdy be 
claimed by some mariners — a part of the crew of the vessel from the 
Spanish Main — ^who had come ashore to see the humors of Election 
Day. They were rough-looking desperadoes, with sun-blackened 
faces, and an immensity of beard; their wide, short trousers were con- 
fined about the waist by belts, often clasped with a rough plate of 
gold, and sustaining always a long knife, and, in some instances, a 
sword. From beneath their broad-brimmed hats of palm leaf gleamed 
eyes which, even in good-nature and merriment, had a kind of animal 
ferocity. They transgressed, without fear or scruple, the rules of be- 
havior that were binding on all odiers, smoking tobacco imder the 
beadle’s very nose, although each whiff would have cost a townsman 
a shilling; and quaffing, at their pleasure, draughts of wine or aqua- 
vits from pocket flasks, which they freely tendered to the gaping 
crowd around them. It remarkably characterized the incomplete mo- 
rality of the age, ri^d as we call it, that a license was allowed the 
seafaring class, not merely for their freaks on shore, but for far more 
desperate deeds on their proper element. . . . 

But the sea, in those old times, heaved, swelled, and foamed, very 
much at its own will, or subject only to the tempestuous wind, with 
hardly any attempts at regulation by human law. The buccaneer on 
file wave mi^t rdinquish his ca^g, and become at once, if he chose, 
a man of probity and piety on land; nor, even in the full career of his 
reckless life, was he regarded as a personage with whom it was dis- 
r^utable to traffic, or casually associate. Thus, the Puritan elders, 
in their black cloaks, starched bands, and stee^de-crowoed hats, 
fflniled not unbenignantly at the clamor and rude deportment of these 


The Scarlet Letter 

jolly seafaring men; and it excited neither surprise nm: animadversion 
when so reputable a citizen as old Roger Chillingworth, the physician, 
was seen to enter the market place, in close and familiar talk with the 
commander of the questionable vessel. 

The latter was by far the most showy and gallant figure, so far as 
apparel went, anywhere to be seen among the multitude. He wore a 
profusion of ribbons on his garment, and gold lace on his hat, which 
was also encircled by a gold chain, and surmounted with a feather. 
There was a sword at his side, and a sword-cut on his forehead, which, 
by the arrangement of his hair, he seemed anxious rather to display 
than hide. A landsman could hardly have worn this garb and shown 
his face, and worn and shown them both with such a galliard air, 
without undergoing stem question before a magistrate, and probably 
incurring fine or imprisonment, or perhaps an exhibition in the stocks. 
As regarded the shipmaster, however, all was looked upon as per- 
taining to the character, as to a fish his g^stening scales. 

After parting from the physician, the commander of the Bristol 
ship strolled idly through Ae market place; until happening to ap- 
proach the spot where Hester Prynne was standing, he appeared to 
recognize, and did not hesitate to address her. As was usually the case 
wherever Hester stood, a small vacant area — a sort of magic circle — 
had formed itself about her, into which, though the people were 
elbowing one another at a little distance, none ventured, or felt dis- 
posed, to intrude. It was a forcible type of the moral solitude in which 
the scarlet letter enveloped its fated wearer; partly by her own reserve, 
and partly by the instinctive, though no longer so unkindly, with- 
drawal of her fellow creatures. Now, if never before, it answered a 
good purpose, by enabling Hester and the seaman to speak together 
without risk of being overheard; and so changed was Hester Prynne’s 
repute before the public, that the matron in town most eminent for 
ri^d morality could not have held such intercourse with less result 
of scandal than herself. 

“So, mistress,” said the mariner, “I must bid the steward make 
ready one more berth than you bargained for! No fear of scurvy or 
ship fever this voyage! What with the ship’s surgeon and this other 
doctor, our only danger will be from drug or pill; more by token, as 
there is a lot of apothecary’s stuff aboard, which I traded for with a 
Spanish vessd.” 

“What mean you?” inquired Hester, startled mcne than she per- 
mitted to appear. “Have you another passenger?” 


Nathaniel Hawthorne 
“Why, know you not,” cried the shipmaster, “that this physician 
here-— Chillingworth, he calls himself — ^is minded to try my cabin- 
fare with you? Ay, ay, you must have known it; for he tells me he is 
of your party, and a close friend to the gendeman you spoke of — he 
that is in peril from these sour old Puritan rulersl” 

“They know each other well, indeed,” replied Hester, with a mien 
of calmness, though in the utmost constemationA'“They have long 
dwelt together.” 

Nothing further passed between the mariner and Hester Prynne. 
But, at that instant, she beheld old Roger Chillingworth himself, 
standing in the remotest comer of the market place, and smiling 
on her; a smile which — across the wide and bustling square, and 
through all the talk and laughter, and various thoughts, moods, and 
interests of the crowd — conveyed secret and fearful meaning. 


The Procession 

B efore hester prynne could call together her thoughts, and con- 
' sider what was practicable to be done in this new and startling 
aspect of affairs, the sound of military music was heard approaching 
along a contiguous street. It denoted the advance of the procession 
of mag^trates and citizens, on its way toward the meeting house; 
where, in compliance with a custom thus early established, and ever 
since observed, the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale was to deliver an Elec- 
tion Setmcm. 

Soon the head of the procession showed itself, with a slow and 
stately march, turning a comer and making its way across the market 
place. First came the music. It comprised a variety of instruments, 
perh!q>s imperfectly adapted to one another, and played with no 
great skill; but yet attaining the great object for which the harmony 
of drum and clarion address itself to the multitude — ^that of impart- 
ing a higher and more heroic air to the scene of life that passes before 
the ^e. Little Pearl at first clapped her hands, but then lost, for an 
instant, the restless a^tation that had kept her in a continual effer- 
vescence througjhout the morning; she gazed silently and semed to 
be borne upward, like a fioating sea bird, on the long heaves and 
swdOis of sound. But she was brought back to her former mood by 
the shimmer of the sunshine on the weapons and bright armor of the 


The Scarlet Letter 

military company, which followed after the music, and formed the 
honorary escort of the procession. This body of soldiery — ^which stiU 
sustains a corporate existence, and marches down from past ages with 
an ancient and honorable fame — ^was composed of no mercenary 
materials. Its ranks were filled with gentlemen, who felt the stirrings 
of martial impulse, and sought to establish a kind of College of Arms, 
udiere, as in an association of Knights Templars, they might learn the 
science, and, so far as peaceful exercise would teach them, the prac* 
tices of war. The high estimation then placed upon the military char- 
acter might be seen in the lofty port of each indi^ddual member of the 
company. Some of them, indeed, by their services in the Low Coun- 
tries and on other fields of warfare, had fairly won their title to assume 
the name and pomp of soldiership. The entire array, moreover, clad 
in burnished steel, and with plumage nodding over their bright mo- 
rions, had a brilliancy of effect which no modem display can aspire 
to equal. 

And yet the men of civil eminence, who came immediately behind 
the military escort, were better worth a thoughtful observer’s eye. 
Even in outward demeanor, they showed a stamp of majesty that 
made the warrior’s haughty stride look vulgar, if not absurd. It was 
an age when what we call talent had far less consideration than now, 
but the massive materials which produce stability and dignity of char- 
acter a great deal more. . . . 

Next in order to the magistrates came the young and eminently 
distinguished divine, from whose lips the religious discourse of the 
anniversary was expected. His was the profession, at that era, in 
which intellectual ability displayed itself far more than in political 
life; for — leaving a hi^er motive out of the question — ^it offered in- 
ducements powerful enough, in the almost worshiping respect of the 
community, to win the most aspiring ambition into its service. Even 
political power — ^as in the case of Increase Mather — ^was within the 
grasp of a successful priest. 

It was the observation of those who beheld him now that never, 
since Mr. Dimmesdale first set his foot on the New En^and shore, 
had he exhibited such energy as was seen in the gait and air with which 
he kept his pace in the procession. There was no feebleness of step, 
as at other times; his frame was not bent; nor did his hand rest omi- 
nously upon his heart. Yet, if the clergyman were rightly viewed, his 
stren^ seemed not of die body. It mig^t be spiritual, and imparted 
to him by angelic ministrations. It mi^t be the exhilaration of that 


Nathaniel Hawthorne 
potent cordial which is distilled only in the furnace glow of earnest 
and long-continued thought. Or, perchance, his sensitive tempera- 
ment was invigorated by the loud and piercing music, that swelled 
heavenward, and uplifted him on its ascending wave. Nevertheless, 
so abstract was his look, it might be questioned whether Mr. Dim- 
mesdale even beard the music. There was his body, moving onward, 
and with an unaccustomed force. But where wsl!s''his mind? Far and 
deep in its own region, busying itself, with preternatural activity, to 
marshal a procession of stately thou^ts that were soon to issue 
thence; and so he saw nothing, heard nothing, knew nothing, of 
what was around him; but the spiritual element took up the feeble 
frame, and carried it along, unconscious of the burden, and convert- 
ing it to spirit like itself. . . . 

Hester Prynne, gazing steadfastly at the clergyman, felt a dreary 
influence come over her, but wherefore or whence she knew not; 
unless that he seemed so remote from her own sphere, and utterly 
beyond her reach. One glance of recognition, she had imaghied, 
must needs pass between them. She thought of the dim forest, with 
its little dell of solitude, and love, and anguish, and the mossy tree 
trunk, where, sitting hand in hand, they had minted their sad and 
passionate talk with the melancholy murmur of the brook. How 
deeply had they known each other then! And was this the man? 
She hardly knew him now! He, moving proudly past, enveloped, as 
it were, in the rich music, with the procession of majestic and venera- 
ble fathers; he, so unattainable in his worldly position, and still more 
so in that far vista of his unsympathizing thou^ts, through which she 
now beheld him! Her spirit sank with the idea that all must have 
been a delusion, and that, vividly as she had dreamed it, there 
could be no real bond betwixt the clergyman and herself. And thus 
much of woman was there in Hester, that she could scarcely for^ve 
him— least of all now, when the heavy footstep of theit approaching 
Fate nught be heard, nearer, nearer, nearer! — for being able so 
completely to withdraw himself from their mutual world; while she 
groped darkly, and stretched forth her cold hands, and found him not.. 

Pearl either saw and responded to her mother’s feelings, or herself 
felt the remoteness and intan^bility that had fallen around the minis- 
ter. While the procession passed, the child was uneasy, fluttering 
up and down, like a bird on the point of takhig flight When the 
whole had gone by, she looked up into Hester’s face. 


The Scarlet Letter 

“Mother,” said she, “was that the same minister that kissed me 
by the brook?” 

“Hold thy peace, dear little Pearl!” whispered her mother. “We 
must not always talk in the market place of what happens to us in 
the forest.” 

“I could not be sure that it was he; so strange he looked,” con- 
tinued the child. “Else I would have run to him, and bid him kiss me 
now, before all the people; even as he did yonder among the dark 
old trees. What would the minister have said, mother? Would he 
have clapped his hand over his heart, and scowled on me, and bid 
me be gone?” 

“What should he say. Pearl,” answered Hester, “save that it was 
no time to kiss, and that kisses are not to be given in the market 
place? Well for thee, foolish child, that thou didst not speak to 

Another shade of the same sentiment, in reference to Mr. Dimmes- 
dale, was expressed by a person whose eccentricities — or insanity, 
as we should term it — led her to do what few of the townspeople 
would have ventured on; to begin a conversation with the wearer 
of the scarlet letter, in public. It was Mistress Hibbins, who, arrayed 
in great magnificence, with a triple rufif, a broidered stomacher, a 
gown of rich velvet, and a gold-headed cane, had come forth to see 
the procession. As this ancient lady had the renown (which subse- 
quently cost her no less a price than her life) of being a principal 
actor in all the works of necromancy that were continually going 
forward, the crowd gave way before her, and seemed to fear the 
touch of her garment, as if it carried the plague among its gorgeous 
folds. Seen in conjunction with Hester Prynne — kindly as so many 
now felt toward the latter — ^the dread inspired by Mistress Hibbins 
was doubled, and caused a general movement from that part of the 
market place in which the two women stood. 

“Now, what mortal ima^nation could conceive it!” wluspered the 
old lady, confidently, to Hester. “Yonder divine man! That saint on 
earth, as the people uphold him to be, and as — ^1 must needs say — 
he really looks! Who, now, that saw him pass in the procession, 
would think how little while it is since he went forth out of his study 
— chewing a Hebrew text of Scripture in his mouth, I warrant— 4o 
take an airing in the forest! Aha! we know what that means, Hester 
Prynne! But, truly, forsooth, I find it hard to believe him the same 


Nathaniel Hawthorne 
man. Many a church member saw I, walking behind the music, that 
has danced in the same measure with me, when Somebody was 
fiddler, and, it might be, an Indian powwow or a Lapland wizard 
changing hands with us! That is but a trifle, when a woman knows 
the world. But this minister! Couldst thou surely tell, Hester, whether 
he was the same man that encountered thee on the forest path?” 

“Madam, I know not of what you speak,” answeted Hester Prynne, 
feeling Mistress Hibbins to be of infirm mind; yet strangely startled 
and awe-stricken by the confidence with which she afiirmed a personal 
connection between so many persons (herself among them) and 
the Evil One. “It is not for me to talk lightly of a learned and pious 
minister of the Word, like the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale!” 

“Fie, woman, fie!” cried the old lady, shaking her finger at Hester. 
“Dost thou think I have been to the forest so many times, and have 
yet no skill to judge who else has been there? Yea; though no leaf 
of the wild garlands, which they wore while they danced, be left in 
their hair! I know thee, Hester; for I behold the token. We may all 
see it in the sunshine; and it glows like a red flame in the dark. 
Thou wearest it openly; so there need be no question about that. But 
this minister! Let me tell thee, in thine ear! When the Black Man 
sees one of his own servants, signed and sealed, so shy of owning to 
the bond as is the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale, he hath a way of 
ordering matters so that the mark shall be disclosed in open daylight 
to the eyes of all the world! What is it that the minister seeks to hide, 
with his hand always over his heart? Ha, Hester Prynne!” 

“What is it, good Mistress Hibbins?” eagerly asked little Pearl. 
“Hast thou seen it?” 

“No matter, darling!” responded Mistress Hibbins, making Pearl 
a profound reverence. “Thou thyself wilt see it, one time or another. 
They say, child, thou art of the lineage of the Prince of the Air! 
Wilt thou ride with me, some fine night, to see thy father? Then 
thou Shalt know wherefore the minister keeps his hand over his 

Lau^iing so shrilly that all the market place could hear her, the . 
wdbrd old gentlewoman took her departure. 

By this time the preliminary prayer had been offered in the meet- 
in^me, and the accents of the Reverend M^. Dimmesdale were 
heard commencing his discourse. An irresistible feeling kept Hester 
IKar the spot. As the sacred edifice was too much throng to admit 
another auditor, she took up her position close beside the scaffold 


The Scarlet Letter 

of the pillory. It was in sufficient proximity to bring the whole sermon 
to her ears, in the shape of an indistinct, but varied murmur and 
flow of the minister’s very peculiar voice. 

This vocal organ was in itself a rich endowment; insomuch that 
a listener, comprehending nothing of the language in which the 
preacher spoke, might still have been swayed to and fro by the mere 
tone and cadence. Like all other music, it breathed passion and 
pathos, and emotions high or tender, in a tongue native to the human 
heart, wherever educated. Muffled as the sound was by its passage 
through the church walls, Hester Pryime listened with such intent- 
ness, and sympathized so intimately, that the sermon had throughout 
a meaning for her, entirely apart from its indistinguishable words. 
These, perhaps, if more distinctly heard, might have been only a 
grosser medium, and have clogged the spiritual sense. Now she 
caught the low undertone, as of the wind sinking down to repose 
itself; then ascended with it, as it rose through progressive grada- 
tions of sweetness and power, until its volume seemed to envelop 
her with an atmosphere of awe and solemn grandeur. And yet, ma- 
jestic as the voice sometimes became, there was forever in it an 
essential character of plaintiveness. A loud or low expression of 
anguish — the whisper, or the shriek, as it might be conceived, of 
suffering humanity, that touched a sensibility in every bosom! At 
times this deep strain of pathos was all that could be heard, and 
scarcely heard, sighing amid a desolate silence. But even when the 
minister’s voice grew high and commanding — ^when it gushed irre- 
pressibly upward — when it assumed its utmost breadth and power, 
so overfilling the church as to burst its way through the solid walls 
and diffuse itself in the open air — still, if the auditor listened intently, 
and for the purpose, he could detect the same cry of pain. What was 
it? The complaint of a human heart, sorrow-laden, perchance guilty, 
telling its secret, whether of guilt or sorrow, to the great heart of 
mankind; beseeching its sympathy or forgiveness — at every moment 
— ^in each accent — and never in vain! It was this profound and con- 
tinual undertone that gave the clergyman his most appropriate power. 

Dur ing all this time, Hester stood, statue-like, at the foot of the 
scaffold. If the minister’s voice had not kept her there, there would 
nevertheless have been an inevitable magnetism in that spot, whence 
she dated the first hour ai her life of i^iominy. There was a sense 
within her — too ill-defined to be made a thou^t, but weig^g heavily 
on her mind— -that her whole orb of life, both before and after, whs 


Nathaniel Hawthorne 

connected with this spot, as with the one point that gave it unity. 

Little Pearl, meanwhile, had quitted her mother’s side, and was 
playing at her own will about the market place. She made the 
somber crowd cheerful by her erratic and glistening ray; even as a 
bird of bright plumage illuminates a whole tree of dus% foliage by 
darting to and fro, half seen and half concealed amid the twilight of 
the clustering leaves. She had an imdulating, but; 6'ftentimes, a sharp 
and irregular movement. It indicated the restless vivacity of her 
spirit, wUch today was doubly indefatigable in its tiptoe dance, be- 
cause it was played upon and vibrated with her mother’s disquietude. 
Whenever Pearl saw anything to excite her ever-active and wandering 
curiosity, she flew thitherward, and, as we might say, seized upon 
that man or thing as her own property, so far as she desired it; but 
without yiel^g the minutest degree of control over her motions in 
requital. The Puritans looked on, and, if they smiled, were none the 
less inclined to pronounce the child a demon offspring, from the 
indescribable charm of beauty and eccentricity thdt shone through 
her little figure, and sparkled with its activity. She ran and looked 
the wild Indian in the face; and he grew conscious of a nature wilder 
than his own. Thence, with native audacity, but still with a reserve 
as characteristic, she flew into the midst of a group of mariners, 
the swarthy-cheeked wild men of the ocean, as the Indians were of 
the land; and they gazed wonderingly and admiringly at Pearl, as if 
a flake of sea foam had taken the shape of a little maid, and were 
gifted with a soul of the sea fire, that flashes beneath the prow in 
tte nighttime. 

One of these seafaring men — ^the shipmaster, indeed, who had 
spoken to Hester Prynne — was so smitten with Pearl’s aspect, that 
he attempted to lay hands upon her, with purpose to snatch a kiss. 
Finding it as impossible to touch her as to catch a humming bird in 
the air, he took from his hat the gold chain that was l^st^ about 
it, and threw it to the child. Pearl immediately twined it around her 
neck and waist with such happy skill, that, once seen there, it became 
a part of her, and it was difficult to imagine her without it. 

“Thy mother is yonder woman with the scarlet letter,’’ said the 
seaman. “Wilt thou carry her a message from me?” 

“If the message pleases me, I will,” answered Pearl. 

“Then tdl her,” rejoined he, “that I spake again with the black- 
a-visaged, hump-^oiddered old doctor, and he engages to bring his 
friend, the gentlonan she wots of, aboard with him. So let thy mother 


The Scarlet Letter 

take no thought, save for herself and thee. Wilt thou tell her this, 
thou witch-baby?” 

“Mistress Hibbins says my father is the Prince of the Air!” cried 
Pearl, with a naughty smile. “If thou callest me that ill name, I 
shall tell him of thee, and he will chase thy ship with a tempest!” 

Pursuing a zigzag course across the market place, the child re- 
turned to her mother, and communicated what the mariner had 
said. Hester’s strong, calm, steadfastly enduring spirit almost sank, 
at last, on beholding this dark and grim countenance of an inevitable 
doom, which — at the moment when a passage seemed to open for 
the minister and herself out of their labyrinth of misery — showed 
itself, with an unrelenting smile, right in the midst of their path. 

With her mind harassed by the terrible perplexity in which the 
shipmaster’s intelligence involved her, she was also subjected to 
another trial. There were many people present, from the country 
round about, who had often heard of the scarlet letter, and to whom 
it had been made terrific by a hundred false or exaggerated rumors, 
but who had never beheld it with their own bodily eyes. These, after 
exhausting other modes of amusement, now thronged about Hester 
Prynne with rude and boorish intrusiveness. Unscrupulous as it was, 
however, it could not bring them nearer than a circuit of several 
yards. At that distance they accordingly stood, fixed there by the 
centrifugal force of the repugnance which the mystic symbol inspired. 
The whole gang of sailors, likewise, observing the press of spectators, 
and learning the purport of the scarlet letter, came and thrust their 
sunburnt and desperado-looking faces into the ring. Even the Indians 
were affected by a sort of cold shadow of the white man’s curiosity, 
and, gliding through the crowd, fastened their snakelike black eyes on 
Hester’s bosom; conceiving, perhaps, that the wearer of this brilliantly 
embroidered badge must needs be a personage of higjh dignity among 
her people. Lastly, the inhabitants of the town (their own interest 
in this worn-out subject languidly reviving itself, by sympathy with 
what they saw others feel) lounged idly to the same quarter, and 
tormented Hester Prynne, perhaps more than all the rest, with their 
cool, well-acquainted gaze at her familiar shame. Hester saw and 
recognized the selfsame faces of that group of matrons, who had 
awaited her fortlaxjming from the prison door, seven years ago; 
all save one, the youngest and only compassionate amtmg them, whose 
burial-robe she had ^ce made. At the final hour, when she was so 
soon to flitig the burning letter, it had ^angely become the 


Nathaniel Hawthorne 
center of more remark and excitement, and was thus made to sear 
her breast more painfully than at any time since the first day she 
put it on. 

While Hester stood in that magic circle of ignominy, where the 
cunning cruelty of her sentence seemed to have fixed her forever, 
the admirable preacher was looking down from the sacred pulpit 
upon an audience whose very inmost spirits had* yielded to his con- 
trol. The sainted minister in the church! The woman of the scarlet 
letter in the market place! What imagination would have been ir- 
reverent enough to surmise that the same scorching stigma was on 
them both! 


The Revelation of the Scarlet Letter 

T he eloquent voice, on which the souls of the listening audience 
had been borne aloft as on the swelling waves of the sea, at length 
came to a pause. There was a momentary silence, profound as what 
should follow the utterance of oracles. Then ensued a murmur and 
half-hushed tumult; as if the auditors, released from the high spell 
that had transported them into the region of another’s mind, were 
returning into themselves, with all their awe and wonder still heavy 
on them. In a moment more, the crowd began to gush forth from 
the doors of the church. . . . 

In the open air their rapture broke into speech. The street and 
the market place absolutely babbled, from side to side, with applauses 
of the minister. His hearers could not rest until they had told one 
another of what each knew better than he could tell or hear. Accord- 
ing to their united testimony, never had man spoken in so wise, so 
high, and so holy a spirit, as he that spake this day; nor_had inspira- 
tion ever breathed through mortal lips more evidently than it did 
through his. Its influence could be seen, as it were, descending upon 
him, and possessing him, and continually lifting him out of the written 
discourse that lay before him, and fillkg him with ideas that must 
have been as marvelous to himself as to his audience. His subject, 
it aj^eaied, had been the relation between the Deity and the com- 
munities of mankind, with a special reference to the New En^and 
whidi they were here planting in the wfldemess. And, as be drew 
toward the close, a spirit as of prophecy had come upon him, con- 


The Scarlet Letter 

straining him to its purpose as mightily as the old prophets of Israel 
were constrained; only with this difference, that whereas the Jewish 
seers had denoimced judgments and ruin on their country, it was 
his mission to foretell a high and glorious destiny for t^ newly 
gathered people of the Lord. But, throughout it all, and through the 
whole discourse, there had been a certain deep, sad undertone of 
pathos, which could not be interpreted otherwise than as the natural 
regret of one soon to pass away. Yes; their minister whom they so 
loved — and who so loved them all, that he could not depart heaven- 
ward without a sigh — ^had the foreboding of untimely death upon 
him, and would soon leave them in their tears'. This idea of his 
transitory stay on earth gave the last emphasis to the effect which 
the preacher had produced; it was as if an angel, in his passage to 
the skies, had shaken his bright wings over the people for an instant 
— at once a shadow and a splendor — and had shed down a shower 
of golden truths upon them. 

Thus, there had come to the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale — as to 
most men, in their various spheres, though seldom recognized until 
they see it far behind them — an epoch of life more brilliant and 
full of triumph than any previous one, or than any which could here- 
after be. He stood, at this moment, on the very proudest eminence 
of superiority, to which the gifts of intellect, rich lore, prevailing 
eloquence, and a reputation of whitest sanctity, could exalt a clergy- 
man in New England’s earliest days, when the professional character 
was of itself a lofty pedestal. Such was the position which the minister 
occupied, as he bowed his head forward on the cushions of the 
pulpit, at the close of his Election Sermon. Meanwhile Hester Prynne 
was standing beside the scaffold of the pillory, with the scarlet letter 
still burning on her breast! 

Now was heard again the clangor of music, and the measured 
tramp of the military escort, issuing from the church door. The pro- 
cession was to be marshaled thence to the town hall, where a solemn 
banquet would complete the ceremonies of the day. 

Once more, therefore, the train of venerable and majestic fathers 
was seen moving through a broad pathway of Ae people, who drew 
back reverently, on eiAer side, as the Governor and magistrates, the 
old and wise men, Ae holy mmisters, and all Aat were eminent and 
renowned, advanced into Ae midst of them. When Aey were fairly 
in Ae market place, Aeir presence was greeted by a shout. This — 
Aoug^ doubtless it might acquire adAtional force and volume from 


Nathaniel Hawthorne 
the childlike loyalty which the age awarded to its rulers — ^was felt to 
be an irrepressible outburst of enthusiasm kindled in the auditors by 
that high strain of eloquence which was yet reverberating in their 
ears. Each felt the impulse in himself, and in the same breath, caught 
it from his neighbor. Within the church, it had hardly been kept 
down; beneath the sky, it pealed upward to the zenith. There were 
human beings enougi^ and enou^ of highly wrought and sym- 
phonious feeling, to produce that more impressive sound than the 
organ tones of the blast, or the thunder, or the roar of the sea; even 
that mighty swell of many voices, blended into one great voice by 
the universal impulse which makes likewise one vast heart out of 
the many. Never, from the soil of New England, had gone up such 
a shout! Never, on New England soil, had stood the man so honored 
by his mortal brethren as the preacher! 

How fared it with him then? Were there not the brilliant particles 
of a halo in the air about his head? So etherealized by spirit as he 
was, and so apotheosized by worshiping admirers, did his footsteps, 
in the procession, really tread upon the dust of earth? 

As the ranks of military men and civil fathers moved onward, 
all eyes were turned toward the point where the minister was seen 
to approach among them. The shout died into a murmur, as one 
portion of the crowd after another obtained a glimpse of him. How 
feeble and pale he looked, amid all his triumph! The energy— or 
say, rather, the inspiration which had held him up until he should 
have delivered the sacred message that brought its own strength along 
with it from Heaven — ^was withdrawn, now that it had so faithfully 
performed its office. The gilow, which they had just before beheld 
burning on his cheek, was extinguished, like a flame that sinks down 
hopelessly among the late-decaying embers. It seemed hardly the 
face of a man alive, with such a deathlike hue; it was hardly a man 
with life in him that tottered on his path so nervelessly, jet tottered, 
and did not fall! 

One of his clerical brethren — ^it was the venerable John lli^son — 
observing tlK state in which Mr. Dimmesdale was left by the retiring 
wave of intellect and sensibUi^, stepped forward hastily to offer his 
siqyport The minister tremulously, but decidedly, repelled the old 
man’s arm. He still walked onward, if that movement could be so 
described, which rather resembled the wavering effort of an infant 
wiffi its mother’s arms in view, outstretched to tempt him Iprward. 
And now, almost impetcqnible as were the latter steps of bis prog- 


The Scarlet Letter 

ress, he had come opposite the well-remembered and weather- 
darkened scaffold, where, long since, with aU that dreary lapse of 
time between, Hester Prynne had encountered the world’s ignomini- 
ous stare. There stood Hester, holding little Pearl by the hand! And 
there was the scarlet letter on her breast! The minister here marifi a 
pause, although the music still played the stately and rejoicing march 
to which the procession moved. It summoned him onward-onward 
to the festival! — ^but here he made a pause. 

Bellin^am, for the last few moments, had kept an anxious eye 
upon him. He now left his own place in the procession, and ad- 
vanced to give assistance, judging, from Mr. Dimmesdale’s aspect, 
that he must otherwise inevitably fall. But there was something in 
the latter’s expression that warned back the magistrate, although a 
man not readily obeying the vague intimations that pass from one 
spirit to another. This earthly faintness was, in their view, only 
another phase of the minister’s celestial strength; nor would it have 
seemed a miracle too high to be wrought for one so holy, had he 
ascended before their eyes, waxing dimmer and bri^ter, and fading 
at last into the light of heaven. 

He turned toward the scaffold, and stretched forth his arms. 

“Hester,” said he, “come hither! Come, my little Pearl!” 

It was a ghastly look with which he regarded them; but there was 
something at once tender and strangely triumphant in it. The child, 
with the birdlike motion which was one of her characteristics, flew 
to him, and clasped her arms about his knees. Hester Prynne — 
slowly, as if impelled by inevitable fate, and against her strongest 
will — ^likewise drew near, but paused before she reached him. At this 
instant, old Roger Chillingworth thrust himself through the crowd 
— or, perhaps, so dark, disturbed, and evil, was his look he rose up 
out of some nether region — ^to snatch back his victim from what he 
sought to do! Be that as it mig^t, the old man rushed forward, and 
caught the minister by the arm. 

“Madman, hold! what is your purpose?” whispered he. “Wave 
back that woman! Cast off this duld! All shall be Well! Do not 
blacken your fame, and perish in dishonor! I can yet save you! 
Would you bring infamy on your sacred profession?” 

“Ha, tnnpter! Methinks thou art too late!” answered the minister, 
encountering his eye, fearfully, but firmly. “Thy power is not udiat 
it was! With God’s help I shall escape thee now!” 

He M gwjw extended his hand to the woman of the scarlet letter. 

12 $ 

Nathaniel Hawthorne 

“Hester Piyime,” cried he, with a piercing earnestness, “in the 
name of Him, so terrible and so merciful, who gives me grace, at 
this last moment, to do what — ^for my own heavy sin and miserable 
agony — withheld myself from doing seven years ago, come hither 
now, and entwine thy strength about me! Thy strength, Hester; but 
let it be guided by the will which God hath granted me! This wretched 
and wronged old man is opposing it with all his Might! with all his 
own might, and the fiend’s! Come, Hester, come! Support me up 
yonder scaffold!” 

The crowd was in a tumult. The men of rank and dignity, who 
stood more immediately around the clergyman, were so taken by 
surprise, and so perplexed as to the purport of what they saw — 
unable to receive the explanation which most readily presented itself, 
or to imagine any other — ^that they remained silent and inactive 
spectators of the judgment which Providence seemed about to work. 
They beheld the minister, leaning on Hester’s shoulder, and sup- 
ported by her arm around him, approach the scaffold, and ascend 
its steps; while still the little hand of the sin-bom child was clasped 
in his. Old Roger Chillingworth followed, as one intimately con- 
nected with the drama of guilt and sorrow in which they had all 
been actors, and well entitled, therefore, to be present at its closing 

“Hadst thou sought the whole earth over,” said he, looking darkly 
at the clergyman, “there was no one place so secret — ^no high place 
nor lowly place, where thou couldst have escaped me — save on this 
very scaffold!” 

“Thanks be to Him who hath led me hither!” answered the 

Yet he trembled, and turned to Hester with an expression of 
doubt and anxiety in his eyes, not the less evidently betrayed, that 
there was a feeble smile upon his lips. _ 

“Is not this better,” murmured he, “than what we dreamed of 
in the forest?” 

“1 know not! I know not!” she hurriedly replied. “Better? Yea; 
so we may both die, and little Pearl die with us!” 

“For t^ and Pearl, be it as God shall order,” said the minister; 
“and God is mercifull Let me now do the will which He hath made 
{dain before my sig^. For, Hester, I am a dying man. So let me make 
haste to take my shame upon me!” 

Partly supported by Hester Prynne, and holding one hand of 


The Scarlet Letter 

little Pearl’s, the Reverend Mr. Dinunesdale turned to the dignified 
and venerable rulers; to the holy ministers, who were his brethren; 
to the people, whose great heart was thoroughly appalled, yet over- 
flowing with tearful sympathy, as knowing that some deep life-matter 
—which, if full of sin, was full of anguish and repentance likewise 
— ^was now to be laid open to them. The sun, but little past its me- 
ridian, shone down upon the clergyman, and gave a distinctness to 
his figure, as he stood out from all the earth, to put in his plea of 
guilty at the bar of Eternal Justice. 

“People of New England!’’ cried he, with a voice that rose over 
them, high, solemn, and majestic — ^yet had alwa3rs a tremor through 
it, and sometimes a shriek struggling up out of a fathomless depth 
of remorse and woe — “ye, that have loved me! — yt, that have deemed 
me holy! — ^behold me here, the one sinner of the world! At last — 
at last! — I stand upon the spot where, seven years since, I should 
have stood; here, with this woman, whose arm, more than the little 
strength wherewith I have crept hitherward, sustains me, at this 
dreadful moment, from groveling down upon my face! Lo, the scarlet 
letter which Hester wears! Ye have all shuddered at it! Wherever 
her walk hath been — wherever, so miserably burdened, she may 
have hoped to find repose — ^it hath cast a lurid gleam of awe and 
horrible repugnance round about her. But there stood one in the 
midst of you, at whose brand of sin and infamy ye have not shud- 

It seemed, at this point, as if the minister must leave the remainder 
of his secret undisclosed. But he fought back the bodily weakness 
— and, still more, the faintness of heart — that was striving for the 
mastery with him. He threw off all assistance, and stepped passion- 
ately forward a pace before the woman and the child. 

“It was on him!” he continued, with a kind of fierceness — so de- 
termined was he to speak out the whole. “God’s eye beheld it! The 
angels were forever pointing at it. The Devil knew it well, and 
fretted it continually with the touch of his burning finger! But he 
hid it c unning ly from men, and walked among you with the mien 
of a spirit, mournful, because so pure in a sinful world! — and sad, 
because he missed his heavenly kindred! Now, at the death-hour, he 
stands up before you. He bids you look again at Hester’s scarlet 
letter! He tells you, that, with all its mysterious horror, it is but the 
shadow of what he bears on his own breast, and that even this, his 
own red itigma, is no more than the, type of vdiat has seared his in- 


Nathaniel Hawthorne 
most heart! Stand any here that question God’s judgment on a sinner? 
Behold! Behold a dreadful witness of it!” 

With a convulsive motion, he tore away the ministerial band from 
before his breast. It was revealed! But it were irreverent to describe 
that revelation. For an instant, the gaze of the horror-stricken multi- 
tude was concentred on the ghastly miracle; while Ae minister stood, 
with a flush of triumph in his face, as one vi^b, in the crisis of 
acutest pain, had won a victory. Then, down he sank upon the scaf- 
fold! Hester partly raised him, and supported his head against her 
bosom. Old Roger Chillingworth knelt down beside him, with a 
blank, dull countenance, out of which the life seemed to have de- 

“Thou hast escaped me!” he repeated more than once. “Thou 
hast escaped me!” 

“May God forgive thee!” said the minister. “Thou, too, hast 
deeply sinned!” 

He withdrew his dying eyes from the old man, and fixed them on 
the woman and the child. 

“My little Pearl,” said he feebly — and there was a sweet and 
gentle smile over his face, as of a spirit sinking into deep repose; 
nay, now that the burden was removed, it seemed almost as if he 
would be sportive with the child — “dear little Pearl, wilt thou kiss 
me now? Thou wouldst not, yonder, in the forest! But now thou 

Pearl kissed his lips. A spell was broken. The great scene of grief 
in which the wild infant bore a part, had developed all her sym- 
pathies; and as her tears fell upon her father’s cheek, they were the 
pledge that she would grow up amid human joy and sorrow, nor 
forever do battle with the world, but be a woman in it. Toward her 
mother, too. Pearl’s errand as a messenger of anguish was all ful- 

“Hester,” said the clergyman, “farewell!” 

“Shall we not meet again?” whispered she, bending her face down 
dose to his. “Shall we not spend our immortal life together? Surely,, 
surely, we have ransomed one another, with all tins woe! Thou loos- 
est far into eternity, with those bright dying eyes! Then teU me what 
thou seest?” 

“Hush, Hester, hush!” said he, with tremulous solemnly. “The 
law we broke! — ^the sin here so awfully revealed! — ^let thes» alone be 
in thy thoughts! 1 fear! I fear! It mav be that, when we f(»got our 


The Scarlet Letter 

God — ^when we violated our reverence each for the other’s soul — 
it was thenceforth vain to hope that we could meet hereafter, in an 
everlasting and pure reunion. God knows; and He is merciful! He 
hath proved his mercy, most of all, in my afiBictions. By ^ving me 
this burning torture to bear upon my breast! By sending yonder 
dark and terrible old man, to keep the torture always at red-heat! 
By bringing me hither, to die this death of triumphant ignominy 
before the people! Had either of these agonies been wanting, I had 
been lost forever! Praised be his name! His will be done! Farewell!” 

That final word came forth with the minister’s expiring breath. 
The multitude, silent till then, broke out in a strange, deep voice of 
awe and wonder, which could not as yet find utterance, save in this 
murmur that rolled so heavily after the departed spirit. 


A FTER MANY DAYS, when time sufficed for the people to arrange 
Jl\ their thoughts in reference to the foregoing scene, there was 
more than one account of what had been witnessed on the scaffold. 

Most of the spectators testified to having seen, on the breast of 
the unhappy minister, a scarlet letter — ^the very semblance of 
that worn by Hester Prynne — ^imprinted in the flesh. As regarded its 
origin, there were various explanations, all of which most necessarily 
have been conjectural. Some affirmed that the Reverend Mr. Dim- 
mesdale, on the very day when Hester Prynne first wore her ignomini- 
ous badge, had begun a course of penance — ^which he afterward, in 
so many futile methods, followed out — ^by inflicting a hideous torbue 
on himself. Others contended that the stigma had not been produced 
imtil a long time subsequent, when old Roger Chillingwoith, being 
a potent necromancer, had caused it to appear, through the agency 
of magic and poisonous drugs. Others, again — and those best able 
to appreciate ffie minister’s peculiar sensibility, and the wcmderful 
operation of his sjurit upon the body— whispered thw belief, that 
the awful symbol was the effect of the ever-acdve tooth of remorse, 
gnawing from the inmost heart outwardly, and at last manifesting 
Heaven’s dreadful judgment by the visible presence of the letter. . . . 

It is singular, nevertheless, that certain persons, who were specta- 
tors oi the whole scene, and professed never once to have removed 


Nathaniel Hawthorne 
their eyes ftom the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale, denied that there was 
any mark whatever on his breast, more than on a newborn infant’s. 
Neither, by their report, had his dying words acknowledged, nor even 
remotely implied, any, the slightest connection, on his part, with 
the guilt for wluch Hester Prynne had so long worn the scarlet 
letter. According to these highly respectable witnesses, the minister, 
conscious that he was dying — conscious, also, tha&the reverence of 
the multitude placed him already among saints and angels — ^had 
desired, by yielding up his breath in the arms of that fallen woman, 
to express to the world how utterly nugatory is the choicest of man’s 
own righteousness. After exhausting life in his efforts for mankind’s 
spiritu^ good, he had made the manner of his death a parable, in 
order to impress on his admirers the mighty and mournful lesson, 
that, in the view of Infinite Purity, we are sinners all alike. It was to 
teach them, that the holiest among us has but attained so far above 
his fellows as to discern more clearly the Mercy which looks down, 
and repudiate more utterly the phantom of human merit, which 
would look aspiringly upward. . . . 

Among many morals which press upon us from the poor minister’s 
miserable experience, we put only this into a sentence: “Be true! 
Be true! Be true! Show freely to the world, if not your worst, yet 
some trait whereby the worst may be inferred!” 

Nothing was more remarkable than the change which took place, 
almost immediately after Mr. Dimmesdale’s death, in the appearance 
and demeanor of the old man known as Roger Chillingworth. All 
his strength and energy — all his vital and intellectual force — seemed 
at once to desert him; insomuch that he positively withered up, shriv- 
eled away, and almost vanished from mortal si^t, like an uprooted 
weed that lies wilting in the sun. This unhappy man had made the 
very principle of his life to consist in the pursuit and systematic 
exercise of revenge; and whm, by its completest trium£h and con- 
summation, that evil principle was left wiUi no further material to 
support it, when in short, there was no more Devil’s work on earth 
for him to do, it only remained for the unhumanized mortal to be- 
take himself whither his Master would find him tasks enough, and 
pay him his wages duly. . . . 

At old Roger Giillingworth’s decease (which took place within 
the year), and by his last will and testament, of which Governor 
Bdlhig^uun and &e Reverend Mr. Wilson were executors, „he be- 


The Scarlet Letter 

queathed a very considerable amount of property, both here and in 
England, to litde Pearl, the dau^ter of Hester Prynne. 

So Pearl — ^the elf-child — ^the demon offspring, as some people, up 
to that epoch, persisted in considering her — ^became the richest heiress 
of her day, in the New World. Not improbably, this circumstance 
wrought a very material change in the public estimation; and, had 
the mother and child remained here, little Pearl, at a marriageable 
period of life, might have mingled her wild blood with the lineage of 
the devoutest Puritan among them all. But, in no long time after the 
physician’s death, the wearer of the scarlet letter disappeared, and 
Pearl along with her. . . . The story of the scarlet letter grew into 
a legend. Its spell, however, was still potent, and kept the scaffold 
awful where the poor minister had died, and likewise the cottage 
by the seashore, where Hester Prynne had dwelt. Near this latter 
spot, one afternoon, some children were at play, when they beheld 
a tall woman, in a gray robe, approach the cottage door. In all those 
years it had never once been opened; but either she unlocked it, or 
the decaying wood and iron yielded to her hand, or she glided 
shadowlike through these impedments — and, at all events, went in. 

On the threshold she paused — turned partly round — ^for, perchance 
the idea of entering all alone, and all so changed, the home of so 
intense a former life, was more dreary and desolate than even she 
could bear. But her hesitation was only for an instant, though long 
enough to display a scarlet letter on her breast. 

And Hester Prynne had returned, and taken up her long-forsaken 
shame! But where was little Pearl? If still alive, she must now have 
been in the flush and bloom of early womanhood. None knew — ^nor 
ever learned, with the fullness of perfect certainty. . . . But, through 
the remainder of Hester’s life, there were indications that the recluse 
of the scarlet letter was the object of love and interest with some 
inhabitant of another land. Letters came, with armorial seals upon 
them, though of bearings imknown to English heraldry. In the cot- 
tage there were articles of comfort and luxury such as Hester never 
cared to use, but which only wealth could have purchased, and 
affection have imaged for her. . . . And, once, Hester was seem 
embroidering a baby garment, with such a lavish richness of golden 
fancy as would have raised a public tumult, had any infant, thus 
appareled, been shown to our sober-hued community. 

In fine, the gossips of that day believed— and Mr. Surveyor Pue, 
who made investigations a century later, believed — and one of his 


Nathaniel Hawthorne 
recent successors in office, moreover, faithfully believes — ^that Pearl 
was not only alive, but married, and happy, and mindful of her 
mother, and that she would most joyfully have entertained that sad 
and lonely mother at her fireside. 

But there was a more real life for Hester Prynne here, in New 
England, than in that unknown region where Pearl had found a 
home. Here had been her sin; here, her sorrow; ^and here was yet 
to be her penitence. She had returned, therefore, and resumed — of 
her own free will, for not the sternest magistrate of that iron period 
would have imposed it — ^resumed the symbol of which we have 
related so dark a tale. Never afterward did it quit her bosom. But, 
in the lapse of the toflsome, thou^tful, and seU-devoted years that 
made up Hester’s life, the scarlet letter ceased to be a stigma which 
attracted the world’s scorn and bitterness, and became a type of 
something to be sorrowed over, and looked upon with awe, yet with 
reverence too. 

And, after many, many years a new grave was delved, near an 
old and sunken one, in that burial ground beside which King’s 
Chapel has since been built. It was near that old and sunken grave, 
yet with a space between, as if the dust of the two sleepers had no 
right to mingle. Yet one tombstone served for both. All around, there 
were monuments carved with armorial bearings; and on this simple 
ginh of slate — as the curious investigator may still discern, and per- 
plex himself with the purport— there appeared the semblance of an 
eng raved escutcheon. It bore a device, a herald’s wording of which 
mi ght serve for a motto and brief description of our now concluded 
legend; so somber is it, and relieved only by one ever-glowing point 
of li ght gamier than the shadow: — 

“On a field, sable, the letter A, gules.” 



H e was small of stature and so thin that an acute observer 
might have predicted that he would fall victim to the tu- 
berculosis that eventually killed him at the age of twenty- 
eight. But he drove himself throughout his brief life as if he had the 
strength of a robust man. He had a fine brow, a well-shaped head and 
magnificent eyes, though his mouth and chin were weak. He went 
through school and college rather carefully avoiding any real instruc- 
tion, but he became one of America’s finest prose stylists. 

A scion of a two-hundred-year-old New Jersey family, Stephen 
Crane preferred the company of Bohemians, prostitutes and down- 
and-outers. He needed only solitude, paper and pen to write his finest 
work, but he exhausted himself by seeking direct experiences of life 
in remote sections of the world. He was a disillusioned observer of his 
fellow men, but he gave money generously to friends and strangers 
alike. He had, in short, his full share of human contradictions, but in 
him they were raised to a hi^er power. Stephen Crane was a genius 
who cr amm ed into a few short years the writing of a novel and a num- 
ber of superb short stories that foreshadow the devdopment of twen- 
tieth-century American prose. 

Crane attracted little attention vdth the privately paid publication 
of his first novel, Maggie, A Girl of the Streets, in 1 893. This natural- 
istic story of the slum Irish on New York’s East Side was too daring 
for American readers. Its characters were the submerged immigrant 
Irish; it was harrowin^y realistic; it ended in ^im tragedy and offered 
no hope; and it was written in a spare, graphic style that blinked at 
neither the sordidness nor the horror of slum life. When Magpe was 
pubUshed, Stephen Crane was twenty-two. Readers assumed he knew 

Stephen Crane, journalist, short story writer, novelist. 

the slums well: the fact is that he had scarcely seen them. His power- 
ful imaginat ion and quick eye taught him all that he needed to know. 

The passing years have done little to pc^larize Maggie. Its prose 
is Crane’s flattest and least profitable. The larger, more recent real- 
istic novels of Dreiser and odier imitators have lessened the impact of 
this forerunner, 

But Crane’s next major work was a truly remaritable adiievcment ' 
— a war novel by a man who had never seen combat! The Red Badge 
of Courage was hailed in its own day as the finest novel of the Gvil 
War yet writtra, as it may well still be. This direct, powerful tale of 
a young Yankee soldier’s first experience of battle is a triumph of 
tedmique. Everything is seen through the e^ of the young private, 

Henry Fleming; the reader knows (mly what Fleming sees and knows. 
An unforgettable picture is created of the nightmare confusion, horror 
and apparent purposelessness of war. Crane was on a ship r unning 
guns and ammunition from Jacksonville, Florida, to Cuban revolu- 
tionaries in Havana. The ship foundered off the coast of Florida. 
Crane was cast adrift in a ten-foot dinghy with the captain, a cook 
and an oiler. They spent more than twenty-four hours at the mercy 
of mountainous seas before landing in a heavy surf near New Smyrna. 
As in the story, the oiler, Billy Higgins, a hero of the shipwreck, was 
dead on arrival on shore. Crane himself appears in the story as the 

From these simple ingredients. Crane has made a classic tale of 
men against the sea. His powerful, controlled prose etches an unfor- 
gettable picture of frail human beings rising to heroism in man’s un- 
ending struggle with his eternal enemy, the sea. With marvelous econ- 
omy of word and incident, Crane developed the changing moods of 
his characters in the face of ever-present terror. 

Crane was a master of discreet naturalistic detail. The adroit and 
startling effect of color is dominant in his work. “The Open Boat” 
beg^s with a passage that immediately conjures up waves so huge that 
the sky is blotted out: “None of them knew the color of the sky. Their 
eyes glanced level, and were fastened upon the waves that swept to- 
ward them.” 

With his contemporaries, Frank Norris and Jack London, Crane 
ranks as a founder of naturalism in American writing. The aim of the 
naturalists is to present life as truly and objectively as possible, rigor- 
ously excluding from the work the artist’s own personality. Naturalists 
were likely to be pessimists and determinists; for them there was no 
free will: man was a creature governed by forces beyond his under- 
standing or control. But unlike many other naturalists. Crane believed 
in economy of detail. He has none of the endless cataloguing of facts 
that clog the pages of Norris, Dreiser and a dozen others. 

Crane’s career was so brief that the reading public barely had a 
chance to leam die fact of his existence before he was gone. His fame 
dates only from the publicatitm of The Red Badge of Courage in late 
1895. He died in Germany, five months before his twenty-ninth birth- 
day, in June, 1900. His Bohemianism, his inability to cope with fame, 
his constant desire for travel and new experiences made him “a con- 
troversial figur®*” IBs fellow artists hailed him; a scandalized public 

read him for a season; but public disapproval was engulfing him even 
when he died. His reputation went into an eclipse from which it is only 
now emerging. 

Perhaps an important element accounting for both this reputation 
and the neglect he has suffered is his ironical attitude toward life. 
Irony is indirect and suggestive; and it often conceals cynicism. In art, 
it is a technique that achieves powerful effects,' But it is not always 
popular with sentimental and conservative readers. 

Crane’s brief life was spent in writing and in a frantic, exhausting 
search for experience. Perhaps the greatest irony of his life was that, 
of aU artists, he had least need for direct experience, yet he burned 
hims elf out searching for it. He had no great love for life and often 
spoke of not wanting to live beyond thirty>five; indeed, his exhaust- 
ing travels now seem a form of suicide. Crane’s works became the 
realization of his life: into them he poured his genius. 

A Tale intended to be after the Fact, Being the Experience 
OF Four Men from the Sunk Steamer “Commodore” 


N one of them knew the color of the sky. Their eyes glanced 
level, and were fastened upon the waves that swept toward them. 
These waves were of the hue of slate, save for the tops, which were of 
foaming white, and all of the men knew the colors of the sea. The 
horizon narrowed and widened, and dipped and rose, and at all times 
its edge was jagged with waves that seemed thrust up in points like 

Many a man ought to have a bathtub larger than the boat which 
here rode upon the sea. These waves were most wrongfully and bar- 
barously abrupt and tall, and each froth-top was a problem in small 
boat navigation. 

The cook squatted in the bottom and looked with both eyes at die 
six inches of gunwale which separated him from the ocean. His sleeves 
were rolled over his fat forearms, and the two flaps of his unbuttoned 
vest dangled as he bent to bail out the boat. Often he said: “Gawdl 
That was a narrow clip,” As he remarked it he invariably gazed east- 
ward over the broken sea. 

The oiler, steering with one of the two oars in the boat, sometimes 
raised himself suddenly to keep clear of water that swirled in over the 
stem. It was a thin little oar and it seemed often ready to snap. 

The correspondent, pulling at the other oar, watched the waves and 
wondered why he was there. 

The injured captain, lying in the bow, was at this time buried in 
that profound dejection and indifference which comes, temporarily at 


Stephen Crane 

least, to even the bravest and most enduring when, willy-nilly, the 
firm fails, the army loses, the ship goes down. The mind of the mas- 
ter of a vessel is rooted deep in the timbers of her, though he com- 
manded for a day or a decade, and this captain had on him the stem 
impression of a scene in the grays of dawn of seven turned faces, and 
later a stump of a topmast with a white ball on it that slashed to and 
fro at the waves, went low and lower, and down.T*hereafter there was 
something strange in his voice. Although steady, it was deep with 
mourning, and of a quality beyond oration or tears. 

“Keep ’er a little more south, Billie,” said he. 

“ ‘A little more south,’ sir,” said the oiler in the stem. 

A seat in this boat was not unlike a seat upon a bucking bronco, 
and, by the same token, a bronco is not much smaller. The craft 
pranced and reared, and plunged like an animal. As each wave came, 
and she rose for it, she seemed like a horse making at a fence out- 
rageously high. The manner of her scramble over these walls of water 
is a mystic thing, and, moreover, at the top of them were ordinarily 
these problems in white water, the foam racing down from the sum- 
mit of each wave, requiring a new leap, and a leap from the air. Then, 
after scornfully bumping a crest, she would slide and race and splash 
down a long incline, and arrive bobbing and nodding in front of the 
next menace. 

A singular disadvantage of the sea lies in the fact that after suc- 
cessfully surmounting one wave you discover that there is another be- 
hind it just as important and just as nervously anxious to do some- 
thing effective in the way of swamping boats. In a ten-foot dinghy one 
can get an idea of the resources of the sea in the line of waves Uiat is 
not probable to die average experience whidi is never at sea in a 
dinghy. As each slaty wall of water approached, it shut all else from 
the view of the men in the boat, and it was not difficult to imagine that 
this particular wave was the final outburst of the ocean^ihe last effort 
ot the grim water. There was a terrible grace in the move of the waves, 
and they came in silence, save for the snarling of the crests. 

In the wan light, tiie faces of the men must have been gray. Their 
eyes must have strange ways as they gazed steadily astern. 

Viewed from a balcony, the whole thing would doubtlessly have b^ 
wdrdly picturesque. But the men in the boat had no time to see it, and 
if they had had leisure there were other thinp to occupy their minds. 
The sun swung steadfly up the sky, and they knew it was broad day 
because the color of the sea dianged from date to emerald green, 


The Open Boat 

streaked with amber lights, and the foam was like tumbling snow. Hie 
process of the breaking day was unknown to them. They were aware 
only of this effect upon the color of the waves that rolled toward them. 

in disjointed sentences the cook and the correspondent argued as to 
the difference between a lifesaving station and a house of refuge. The 
cook had said: "There’s a house of refuge just north of the Mosquito 
Inlet Light, and as soon as they see us, they’ll come off in their boat 
and pick us up.’’ 

“As soon as who see us?’’ said the correspondent. 

“The crew,” said the cook. 

“Houses of refuge don’t have crews,” said the correspondent. “As 
I understand them, they are only places where cloffies and grub are 
stored for the benefit of shipwrecked people. They don’t carry crews.” 

“Oh, yes, they do,” said the cook. 

“No, they don’t,” said the correspondent. 

“Well, we’re not there yet, anyhow,” said the oiler, in the stem. 

“Well,” said the cook, “perhaps it’s not a house of refuge that I’m 
thinking of as being near Mosquito Inlet Light. Perhaps it’s a life- 
saving station.” 

“We’re not there yet,” said the oiler, in the stem, 


AS THE BOAT BOUNCED from the top of each wave, the wind tore 
J\. through the hair of the hatless men, and as the craft plopped her 
stem down again die spray slashed past them. The crest of each of 
these waves was a hill, from the top of which the men surveyed, for a 
moment, a broad tumultuous expanse, shining and wind-riven. It was 
probably splencUd. It was probably glorious, this play of the free sea, 
wild with li ght s of emerald and white and amber. 

“Bully good thing it’s an onshore wind,” said the cook. “If not, 
where would we be? Wouldn’t have a show.” 

“That’s ri^t,” said the correspondent. 

The busy oiler nodded his assent. 

Then the captain, in the bow, chudded in a way that expressed 
humor, contempt, tragedy, all in one. “Do you diink we’ve got mudi 
of a show now, boys?” said he. 

Whereupon the three were silent, save for a trifle of hemming and 
hawing. To exjness any particular optimum at this time they feh to be 
rhiiAish and stupid, but they all doi*tiess possessed this sense of the 


Stephen Crane 

situation in their mind. A young man thinks doggedly at such timas 
On the other hand, the ethics of their condition was decidedly against 
any open suggestion of hopelessness. So they were silent. 

“Oh, well,” said the captain, soothing his children, “we’ll get ashore 
all right.” 

But there was that in his tone which made them think, so the oiler 
quoth: “Yes! If this wind holds!” 

The cook was bailing: “Yes! If we don’t catch hell in the surf.” 

Canton flannel gulls flew near and far. Sometimes they sat down 
on the sea, near patches of brown seaweed that rolled over the waves 
with a movement like carpets on a line in a gale. The birds sat com- 
fortably in groups, and they were envied by some in the dinghy, for 
the wrath of the sea was no more to them than it was to a covey of 
prairie chickens a thousand miles inland. Often they came very close 
and stared at the men with black beadlike eyes. At these times they 
were uncanny and sinister in their unblinking scrutiny, and the men 
hooted angrily at them, telling them to be gone. One came, and evi- 
dently decided to alight on the top of the captain’s head. The bird 
flew parallel to the boat and did not circle, but made short sidelong 
jumps in the air in chicken fashion. His black eyes were wistfully 
fixed upon the captain’s head. “Ugly brute,” said the oiler to the bird. 
“You look as if you were made with a jackknife.” The cook and the 
correspondent swore darkly at the creature. The captain naturally 
wished to knock it away wiA the end of the heavy painter; but he did 
not dare do it, because anything resembling an emphatic gesture 
would have capsized this freighted boat, and so with bis open hand, 
the captain gently and carefully waved the gull away. After it had been 
discouraged from the pursuit the captain breathed easier on account 
of his hair, and others breathed easier because the bird struck their 
minds at this time as being somehow gruesome and ominous. 

In the meantime the oiler and the correspondent rowed. And also 
they rowed. 

They sat together in the same seat, and each rowed an oar. Then 
the oiler took both oars; then the correspondent took both oars; tihen 
the oiler; then the correspondent. They rowed and they rowed. The 
very ticklish part of the business was when the time came for the 
reclining one in the stem to take his turn at the oars. By the very last 
star of troth, it is easier to steal eggs from tmder a ben than it was to 
change seats in the dinghy. First the man in the stem slid his hand 
abng the thwart and moved with care, as if he were of Sevres. Then 
the man in die rowing seat slid bis hand along the other thwart. It was 


The Open Boat 

all done with the most extraordinary care. As the two sidled past each 
other, the whole party kept watchful eyes on the coming wave, and 
the captain cried: “Look out now! Steady there!” 

The brown mats of seaweed that appeared &om time to tim e were 
like islands, bits of earth. They were traveling, apparently, neither 
one way nor the other. They were, to all intents, stationary. They in- 
formed the men in the boat that it was makin g progress slowly toward 
the land. 

The captain, rearing cautiously in the bow, after the dinghy soared 
on a great swell, said that he had seen the lighthouse at Mosquito 
Inlet. Presently the cook remarked that he had seen it. The corre- 
spondent was at the oars then, and for some reason he too wished to 
look at the lighthouse, but his back was toward the far shore and the 
waves were important, and for some time he could not seize an op- 
portunity to turn his head. But at last there came a wave more gentle 
than the others, and when at the crest of it he swiftly scoured the 
western horizon. 

“See it?” said the captain. 

“No,” said the correspondent slowly, “I didn’t see anything.” 

“Look again,” said the captain. He pointed. “It’s exactly in that 

At the top of another wave, the correspondent did as he was bid, 
and this time his eyes chanced on a small still thing on the edge of the 
swaying horizon. It was precisely like the point of a pin. It took an 
anxious eye to find a lighthouse so tiny. 

“Think we’ll make it, captain?” 

“If this wind holds and the boat don’t swamp, we can’t do much 
ebe,” said the captain. 

The little boat, lifted by each towering sea, and splashed viciously 
by the crests, made progress that in the absence of seaweed was not 
apparent to those in her. She seemed just a wee thing wallowing, 
miraculously top up, at the mercy of five oceans. Occasionally, a great 
spread of water, like white flames, swarmed into her. 

“Bail her, cook,” said the captain serenely. 

“All right, captain,” said the cheerful cook. 


I T WOULD BE DIFFICULT to describe the subtle brotherhood of mra 
that WM here estabUshed on the seas. No one said that it was so. 
No one mentioned it. But it dwelt in the boat, and each man felt it 


Stephen Creme 

wann him. They were a captain, an oiler, a cook and a correspond* 
ent, and they were friends, friends in a more curiously itonbound de- 
gree than may be common. The hurt captain, lying against the water 
jar in the bow, spoke always in a low voice and cdmly, but he could 
never command a more ready and swiftly obedirat crew than the 
motley three of the dinghy. It was more than a mere recognition of 
what was best for the common safety. There wak Purely in it a quality 
that was personal and heartfelt. And after this devotion to the com- 
mander of the boat there was this comradeship that the correspond- 
ent, for instance, who had been taught to be cynical of men, knew 
even at the time was the best experience of his life. But no one said 
that it was so. No one mentioned it. 

“I wish we had a sail,” remarked the captain. “We might try my 
overcoat on the end of an oar and give you two bo)^ a chance to rest.” 
So the cook and the correspondent held the mast and spread wide the 
overcoat. The oiler steered, and the little boat made good way with 
her new rig. Sometimes the oiler had to scull sharply to keep a sea 
from breaking into the boat, but otherwise sailing was a success. 

Meanwhile the lighthouse had been growing slowly larger. It had 
now almost assumed color, and appeared like a little gray shadow on 
the sky. The man at the oars could not be prevented from turning his 
head rather often to try for a glimpse of tiiis little gray shadow. 

At last, from the top of each wave the men in the tossing boat could 
see land. Even as the hothouse was an upright shadow on the sky, 
this land seemed but a long black shadow on the sea. It certainly was 
thinner than paper. “We must be about opposite New Smyrna,” said 
the cook, who had coasted this shore often in schooners. “Captain, by 
the way, I believe they abandoned that lifesaving station there about 
a year ago.” 

“Did they?” said the captain. 

The wind slowly died away. The cook and the correspondent were 
not now obliged to slave in order to hold hig^ the oar. But the waves 
continued their old impetuous swooping at the dinghy, and the little 
craft, no longer under way, struggled woundily over them. The oiler 
or due correspondent took the oars again. 

Shipwrecks are d propos of nothing. If men could only train for 
them and have them occur when the men had reached pink condition, 
there would be less drowning at sea. Of the four in the dinghy none 
had slept any time worth mentioning for two days and two m^tts 
previous to embarking in the dinghy, and in the exchemeat of clam- 


The Open Boat 

bering about the deck of a foundering ship they had also forgotten to 
eat heartily. 

For these reasons, and for others, neither the oiler nor the corre- 
spondent was fond of rowing at this time. The correspondent won- 
dered ingenuously how in the name of all that was sane could there 
be people who thought it amusing to row a boat. It was not an amuse- 
ment; it was a diabolical punishment, and even a genius of mental 
aberrations could never conclude that it was anything but a horror to 
the muscles and a crime against the back. He mentioned to the boat 
in general how the amusement of rowing struck him, and the weary- 
faced oiler smiled in full sympathy. Previously to the foundering, by 
the way, the oiler had worked double watch in the engine room of the 

“Take her easy, now, boys,” said the captain. “Don’t spend your- 
selves. If we have to run a surf you’ll need all your strength, because 
we’ll sure have to swim for it. Take your time.” 

Slowly the land arose from the sea. From a black line it became a 
line of black and a line of white, trees and sand. Finally, the captain 
said that he could make out a house on the shore. “That’s the house 
of refuge, sure,” said the cook. “They’ll see us before long, and come 
out after us.” 

The distant lighthouse reared high. “The keeper ought to be able 
to make us out now, if he’s looking through a glass,” said the captain. 
“He’ll notify the lifesaving people.” 

“None of those other boats could have got ashore to ^ve word of 
the wreck,” said the oiler, in a low voice. “Else the lifeboat would be 
out hunting us.” 

Slowly and beautifully the land loomed out of the sea. The wind 
came again. It had veered from the northeast to the southeast. Fi- 
nally, a new sound struck the ears of the men in the boat. It was the 
low thunder of the surf on the shore. “We’ll never be able to make 
the lighthouse now,” said the captain. “Swing her Iwad a little more 
north, Billie,” said he. 

“ ‘A little more north,’ sir,” said the oiler. 

Wherevq)on the little boat turned her nose once more down the 
wind, and all but the oarsman watched, the shore grow. Under the in- 
fluence of this expansion doubt and direful apprehension was leaving 
the minds of the men. The management of the boat was still most ab- 
sorbing, but it could not prevent a qiuet cheerfulness. In an hour, pen- 
haps, they would be ashore. 


Stephen Crane 

Their backbones had become thoroughly used to b alancing in the 
boat, and they now rode this wild colt of a dinghy like circus men. 
The correspondent thought that he had been drenched to the skin, but 
happening to feel in the top pocket of his coat, he found therein eight 
cigars. Four of them were soaked with seawater; four were perfectly 
scatheless. After a search, somebody produced three dry matches, and 
thereupon the four waifs rode impudently in their little boat, and with 
an assurance of an impending rescue shining in their eyes, puffed at 
the big cigars and judged well and ill of all men. Everybody took a 
drink of water. 


C OOK,” REMARKED THE Captain, “there don’t seem to be any signs 
of life about your house of refuge.” 

“No,” replied the cook. “Funny they don’t see us!” 

A broad stretch of lowly coast lay before the eyes of the men. It 
was of dunes topped with dark vegetation. The roar of the surf was 
plain, and sometimes they could see the white lip of a wave as it sprm 
up the beach. A tiny house was blocked out black upon the sky. 
Southward, the slim lighthouse lifted its little gray length. 

Tide, wind, and waves were swinging the ^ghy northward. 
“Futmy they don’t see us,” said the men. 

The surfs roar was here dulled, but its tone was, nevertheless, 
thunderous and mighty. As the boat swam over the great rollers, 
the men sat listening to this roar. “We’ll swamp sure,” said every- 

It is fair to say here that there was not a lifesaving station within 
twenty miles in either direction, but the men did not know this fact, 
and in consequence they made dark and opprobrious remarks con- 
cerning the eyesight of the nation’s lifesavers. Four scowling men sat 
in the dinghy and surpassed records in the invention of-epithets. 
“Funny they don’t see us.” 

The lightheartedness of a former time had completely faded. 
To their sharpened minds it was easy to conjure pictures of all kinds 
of incompetent^ and blindness and, indeed, cowardice. There was 
the shore of the populous land, and it was bitter and bitter to them 
that from it came no sign. 

“Well,” said die captain, ultimately, “I suppose we’ll have to make 
a try for ourselves. If we stay out here too long, we’ll none of us have 
strength left to swim after the boat swamps.” 


The Open Boat 

And so die oiler, who was at the oars, turned the boat strai^t for 
the shore. There was a sudden tightening of muscles. There was some 

“K we don’t all get ashore—” said the captain. “If we don’t all 
get ashore, I suppose you fellows know where to send news of my 

They then briefly exchanged some addresses and admonitions. As 
for the reflections of the men, there was a great deal of rage in them. 
Perchance they might be formulated thus: “If 1 am going to be 
drowned — ^if I am going to be drowned — ^if I am going to be drowned, 
why, in the name of the seven mad gods who rule the sea, was I al- 
lowed to come thus far and contemplate sand and trees? Was I 
brought here merely to have my nose dragged away as I was about 
to nibble the sacred cheese of life? It is preposterous. If this old 
ninny-woman. Fate, cannot do better than this, she should be de- 
prived of the management of men’s fortunes. She is an old hen who 
knows not her intention. If she has decided to drown me, why did 
she not do it in the beginning and save me all this trouble? The whole 
affair is absurd. . . . But no, she cannot mean to drown me. She 
dare not drown me. She cannot drown me. Not after all this work.” 
Afterward the man might have had an impulse to shake his fist at 
the clouds: “Just you drown me, now, and then hear what I call 

The billows that came at this time were more formidable. They 
seemed always just about to break and roll over the little boat in a 
turmoil of foam. There was a preparatory and long growl in the 
speech of them. No mind unused to the sea would have concluded 
that the dinghy could ascend these sheer heights in time. The shore 
was still afar. The oiler was a wily sutfman. “Boys,” he said swifdy, 
“she won’t live three minutes more, and we’re too far out to swim. 
Shall I take her to sea again, captain?” 

“Yes! Go ahead!” said the captain. 

This oiler, by a series of quick miracles, and fast and steady oars- 
manship, turned the boat in the middle of the surf and took her safely 
to sea again. 

Hiere was a considerable silence as the boat bumped over the 
furrowed sea to deeper water. Then somebody in g^oom spoke. “Well, 
anyhow, they must have seen us from the shore by now.” 

The gulls went in slanting flight up the wind toward the gray deso- 
late east. A squall, marked by dingy clouds, and clouds brick-red, 

Stephen Crane 

like smoke from a burning building, appeared from the southeast. 

‘*What do you think of those lifesaving people? Ain’t they 

“Funny they haven’t seen us.” 

“Maybe they think we’re out here for sport! Maybe they think 
we’re fishin’. Maybe they think we’re damned fools.” 

It was a long ^emoon. A changed tide tried to' force them south- 
ward, but wind and wave said northward. Far ahead, where coast 
line, sea and sky formed their mig^^ angle, there were little dots 
which seemed to indicate a city on the shore. 

“St. Augustine?” 

The captain shook his head. “Too near Mosquito Inlet.” 

And the oiler rowed, and then the correspondent rowed. Then the 
oiler rowed. It was a weary business. The human back can become 
the seat of more aches and pains than are registered in books for the 
composite anatomy of a regiment. It is a limited area, but it can be- 
come the theatre of innumerable muscular conflicts, tan^es, wrenches, 
knots and other comforts. 

“Did you ever like to row, Billie?” asked the correspondent. 

“No,” said the oiler. “Hang it.” 

When one exchanged the rowing seat for a place in the bottom 
of the boat, he suffered a bodily (kpression that caused him to be 
careless of everything save an obligation to wiggle one finger. There 
was cold sea water swashing to and fro in the boat, and he lay in it. 
His head, pillowed on a thwart, was within an inch of the swM of a 
wave crest, and sometimes a particularly obstreperous sea came in- 
board and drenched him cmce more. But these matters did not annoy 
him. It is almost certain ffiat if the boat had capsized he would have 
tumbled comfortably out upon the ocean as if he felt sure that it was 
a great soft mattress. 

“Look! There’s a man on the shore!” 


“Thwe! See ’im? See ’im?” 

“Yes, sure! He’s walking along.” 

“Now he’s stopped. Look! He’s facing us!” 

“He’s waving at us!” 

“So he is! By thunder!” 

“Ah, now we’re aU rig^t! Now we’re all ri^t! There’ll be a boat 
ont here for us in half-an-honr.” * 

“He’s going (m. He’s ninning. He’s going up to that house there.” 


The Open Boat 

The remote beach seemed lower thao the sea, and it recjuired a 
searching glance to discern the little black figure. The captain saw a 
floating stick and they rowed to it. A bath towel was by some weird 
chance in the boat, and, tying this on the stick, the captain waved it. 
The oarsman did not dare turn his head, so he was obliged to ask 

“What’s he doing now?” 

“He’s standing still again. He’s looking, I think. . . . There he 
goes again. Toward the house. . . . Now he’s stopped again.” 

“Is he waving at us?” 

“No, not now! he was, though.” 

“Look! There comes another man!” 

“He’s running.” 

“Look at him go, would you.” 

“Why, he’s on a bicycle. Now he’s met the other man. They’re 
both waving at us. Look!” 

“There comes something up the beach.” 

“What the devil is that thing?” 

“Why, it looks like a boat” 

“Why, certainly it’s a boat.” 

“No, it’s on wheels.” 

“Yes, so it is. Well, that must be the lifeboat. They drag them 
along shore on a wagon.” 

“That’s the lifeboat, sure.” 

“No, by , it’s — ^it’s an omnibus.” 

“I tell you it’s a lifeboat” 

“It is not! It’s an omnibus. I can see it plain. See? One of these 
big hotel omnibuses.” 

“By thunder, you’re right. It’s an omnibus, sure as fate. What do 
you suppose they are doing with an omnibus? Maybe they are going 
around collecting the life-crew, hey?” 

“That’s it, likely. Look! There’s a fellow waving a little black 
flag. He’s standing on the steps of the omnibus. There come those 
other two fellows. Now they’re all talking together. Look at the 
fellow with the flag. Maybe he ain’t wa^g it.” 

“That ain’t a flag, is it? That’s his coat. Why certainly, that’s his 

“So it is. It’s his coat He’s taken it off and is waving it around 
his head. But would you lode at him swing it.” 

“(Ml, say, there isn’t any lifesaving station there. That’s just a 


Stephen Crane 

winter resort hotel omnibus that has brought over some of the board- 
ers to see us drown.” 

“What’s that idiot with the coat mean? What’s he signaling, any- 

“It looks as if he were trying to teU us to go nordi. There must be 
a lifesaving station up there.” 

“No! He thinks we’re fishing. Just giving us a inerry hand. See? 
Ah, there, Billie.” 

“Well, I wish I could make something out of those signals. What 
do you suppose he means?” 

“He don’t mean anything. He’s just playing.” 

“Well, if he’d just signal us to tiy the surf again, or to go to sea 
and wait, or go north, or go south, or go to hell — ^there would be 
some reason in it. But look at him. He just stands there and keeps 
his coat revolving like a wheel. The ass!” 

“There come more people.” 

“Now there’s quite a mob. Look! Isn’t that a boat?” 

“Where? Oh, I see where you mean. No, that’s no boat.” 

“That fellow is still waving his coat.” 

“He must think we like to see him do that. Why don’t he quit 
it? It don’t mean anything.” 

“I don’t know. I think he is trying to make us go north. It must 
be that there’s a lifesaving station there somewhere.” 

“Say, he ain’t tired yet. Look at ’im wave.” 

“Wonder how long he can keep that up. He’s been revolving his 
coat ever since he caught sight of us. He’s an idiot. Why aren’t they 
getting men to bring a boat out? A fishing boat — one of those big 
yawls — could come out here all right. Why don’t he do something?” 

“Oh, it’s all right, now.” 

“They’ll have a boat out here for us in less than no time, now 
that they’ve seen us.” 

A faint yellow tone came into the sky over the low land. The 
shadows on the sea slowly deepened. The wind bore coldness with 
it, and the men began to shiver. 

“Holy smoke!” said one, allowing his voice to express his impious 
mood, “if we keep cm monkeying out here! If we’ve got to flounder 
out here all ni^t!” 

“Oh, we’ll never have to stay here all mght! Don’t you worry. 
They’ve semi us now, and it won’t be long before they’ll come ehasing 
but after us.” 


The Open Boat 

The shore grew dusky. The man waving a coat blended gradually 
into this gloom, and it swallowed in the same manne r the omnibus 
and the group of people. The spray, when it dashed uproariously over 
the side, made the voyagers shrink and swear like men who were 
being branded. 

“I’d like to catch the chump who waved the coat. I feel like soak- 
ing him one, just for luck.” 

“Why? What did he do?” 

“Oh, nothing, but then he seemed so damned cheerful.” 

In the meantime the oiler rowed, and then the correspondent 
rowed, and then the oiler rowed. Gray-faced and bowed forward, 
they mechanically, turn by turn, plied the leaden oars. The form 
of the lighthouse had vanished from the southern horizon, but fi- 
nally a pale star aj^ared, just lifting from the sea. The streaked 
saffron in the west passed before the all-merging darkness, and the 
sea to the east was black. The land had vanished, and was expressed 
only by the low and drear thunder of the surf. 

“If 1 am going to be drowned — if I am going to be drowned — ^if 
I am going to be drowned, why, in the name of the seven mad gods 
who rule the sea, was I allowed to come thus far and contemplate 
sand and trees? Was I brought here merely to have my nose dragged 
away as I was about to nibble the sacred cheese of life?” 

Ilie patient captain, drooped over the water jar, was sometimes 
obliged to speak to the oarsman. 

“Keep her head up! Keep her head up!” 

“ ‘Keep her head up,’ sir.” The voices were weary and low. 

This was surely a quiet evening. All save the oarsman lay heavily 
and listlessly in the boat’s bottom. As for him, his eyes were just 
capable of noting the tall black waves that swept forward in a most 
sinister silence, save for an occasional subdued growl of a crest. 

The cook’s head was on a thwart, and he looked without interest 
at the water under his nose. He was deep in other scenes. Finally he 
spoke. “Billie,” he murmured, dreamfully, “what kind of pie do you 
like best?” 


P IE,” SAID THE OILER and the correspondwit, agitatedly. “Don’t 
taUi about those things, blast you!” 

“Well,” said the cook, “I was just thinking about ham sandwiches, 



Stephen Crane 

A nig^t on the sea in an open boat is a long night. As darkness 
settled finally, the shine of the light, lifting from the sea in the south, 
changed to full gold. On the northern horizon a new light appeared, 
a small bluish gleam on the edge of the waters. These two lights were 
the furniture of the world. Otherwise there was nothing but waves. 

Two men huddled in the stem, and distances were so magnificent 
in the dinghy that the rower was enabled to kbdp his feet partly 
warmed by thrasting them under his companions. Their legs indeed 
extended far under the rowing seat until they touched the feet of the 
captain forward. Sometimes, despite the efforts of the tired oarsman, 
a wave came piling into the boat, an icy wave of the nigjht, and the 
chilling water soaked them anew. They would twist their bodies for a 
moment and groan, and sleep the dead sleep once more, while the 
water in the boat gurgled about them as the craft rocked. 

The plan of the oiler and the correspondent was for one to row 
until he lost the ability, and then arouse the other from his sea-water 
couch in the bottom of the boat. 

The oiler plied the oars until his head drooped forward, and the 
overpowering sleep blinded him. And he rowed yet afterward. Then 
he touched a man in the bottom of the boat, and called his name. 
“Will you spell me for a little while?” he said, meekly. 

“Sure, Billie,” said the correspondent, awakening and dragging 
himself to a sitting position. They exchanged places carefully, and 
the oiler, cuddling down in the sea water at the cook’s side, seemed 
to go to sleep instantly. 

The particular violence of the sea had ceased. The waves came 
without snarling. The obligation of the man at the oars was to keep 
the boat headed so that the tilt of the rollers would not capsize her, 
and to preserve her from filling when the crests rushed past. The 
black waves were silent and hard to be seen in the darkness. Often 
c»e was almost upon the boat before the oarsman was aware. 

In a low voice the correspondent addressed the captain. He was 
not sore that the captain was awake, although this iron man seemed 
to be always awake. “Captain, shall I keep her making for that ligiht 
north, sir?” 

The same steady voice answered him. “Yes. Keep it about two 
points off the port bOw.” 

The cook had tied a life belt around himseK in order to got even 
the warmth which this c^uni^ cork contrivance could drmate, and he 
seemed almost stovelike when a rower, whose teeth invarrably chat- 


The Open Boat 

teied wildly as soon as he ceased his labor, dropped down to sleep. 

The correspondent, as he rowed, looked down at the two men 
sleeping underfoot. The cook’s arm was around the oiler’s shoulders, 
and, with their fragmentary clothing and haggard faces, they were 
the babes of the sea, a grotesque rendering of the old babes in the 

Later he must have grown stupid at his work, for suddenly there 
was a growling of water, and a crest came with a roar and a swash 
into the boat, and it was a wonder that it did not set the cook afloat in 
his life belt. The cook continued to sleep, but the oiler sat up, blink* 
ing his eyes and shaking with the new cold. 

“Oh, I’m awful sorry, Billie,’’ said the correspondent contritely. 

“That’s all right, old boy,” said the oiler, and lay down again and 
was asleep. 

Presently it seemed that even the captain dozed, and the corre- 
spondent thought that he was the one man afloat on all the oceans. 
The wind had a voice as it came over the waves, and it was sadder 
than the end. 

There was a long, loud swishing astern of the boat, and a gleam- 
ing trail of phosphorescence, like blue flame, was furrowed on the 
black waters. It might have been made by a monstrous knife. 

Then there came a stillness, while the correspondent breathed 
with the open mouth and looked at the sea. 

Suddenly there was another swish and another long flash of bluish 
li^t, and this time it was alongside the boat, and mi^t almost have 
been reached with an oar. The correspondent saw an enormous fin 
speed like a shadow through the water, hurling the crystalline spray 
and leaving the long glowing trail. 

The correspondent looked over his shoulder at the captain. His 
face was hidden, and he seemed to be asleep. He looked at the babes 
of the sea. Hiey certainly were asleep. So, being bereft of sympathy, 
he leaned a little way to (me side and swore softly into the sea. 

But the thing did not then leave die vicinity of the boat. Ahead 
or astern, on one side or the other, at intervals long or short, fled the 
long sparkfing streak, and there was to be heard the whiroo of the 
dark to. The speed and power of the thing was greatly to be ad- 
mired. It cut the water like a ^gantic and keen projectile. 

The presence of this biding tltog did not affect the man widi the 
same horror that it would if he had been a pitmicker. He simply 
loolred atjthe sea dully and swore in an undertcme. 


Stephen Crane 

Nevertheless, it is true that he did not wish to be alone. He wished 
one of his companions to awaken by chance and keep him company 
with it. But the captain hung motionless over the water jar, and the 
oiler and the cook in the bottom of the boat were plunged in slumber. 


I F I AM GOING to be drowned — ^if I am going to be drowned — if I 
am going to be drowned, why, in the name of the seven mad gods 
who rule the sea, was I allowed to come thus far and contemplate 
sand and trees?” 

During this dismal night, it may be remarked that a man would 
conclude that it was really the intention of the seven mad gods to 
drown him, despite the abominable injustice of it. For it was cer- 
tainly an abominable injustice to drown a man who had worked so 
hard, so hard. The man felt it would be a crime most unnatural. 
Other people had drowned at sea since galleys swarmed with painted 
sails, but still 

When it occurs to a man that nature does not regard him as im- 
portant, and that she feels she would not maim the universe by dispos- 
ing of him, he at first wishes to throw bricks at the temple, and he 
hates deeply the fact that there are no bricks and no temples. Any 
visible expression of nature would surely be pelleted with his jeers. 

Then, if there be no tangible thing to hoot he feels, perhaps, the 
desire to confront a personification and indulge in pleas, bowed to 
one knee, and with hands supplicant, saying: “Yes, but 1 love my- 

A high cold star on a winter’s night is the word he feels that she 
says to him. Thereafter he knows the pathos of his situation. 

The men in the dinghy had not discussed these matters, but each 
had, no doubt, reflected upon them in silence and according to his 
mind. There was seldom any expression upon their faces save the 
general one of complete weariness. Speech was devoted to the busi- 
ness of the boat. 

To chime the notes of his emotion, a verse mysteriously entered 
the ccmespondent’s head. He had even forgotten that he had for- 
gottmi this verse, but it suddenly was in his mind. 

A soldier of the Legion lay dying in Algiers, 

There was lack of woman’s nursing, there was dearth of woman’s 


The Open Boat 

But a comrade stood beside him, and he took that comrades hand, 

And he said: “I shall never see my own, my native land." 

In his childhood, the correspondent had been made arq iia;nf»»H 
with the fact that a soldier of the Legion lay dying in Algiers, but he 
had never regarded the fact as important. Myriads of his schoolfel- 
lows had informed him of the soldier’s plight, but the dinning had 
naturally ended by making him perfectly indifferent. He had never 
considered it his affair that a soldier of the Legion lay dying in Al- 
giers, nor had it appeared to him as a matter for sorrow. It was less 
to him than the breaking of a pencil’s point. 

Now, however, it quaintly came to him as a human, living thin g 
It was no longer merely a picture of a few throes in the breast of a 
poet, meanwhile drinking tea and wanning his feet at the grate; it 
was an actuality — stem, mournful, and fine. 

The correspondent plainly saw the soldier. He lay on the sand 
with his feet out straight and still. While his pale left hand was upon 
his chest in an attempt to thwart the going of his life, the blood came 
between his fingers. In the far Algerian distance, a city of low square 
forms was set against a sky that was faint with the last sunset hues. 
The correspondent, plying the oars and dreaming of the slow and 
slower movements of the lips of the soldier, was moved by a pro- 
found and perfectly impersonal comprehension. He was sorry for 
the soldier of the Legion who lay dying in Alters. 

The thing which had followed the boat and waited, had evidently 
grown bored at the delay. There was no longer to be heard the sla^ 
of the cutwater, and there was no longer the flame of the long trail. 
The light in the north still glimmered, but it was apparently no nearer 
to the boat. Sometimes the boom of the surf rang in the correspond- 
ent’s ears, and he turned the craft seaward then and rowed hmder. 
Southward, someone had evidently built a watch fiire on the beadh. 
It was too low and too far to be seen, but it made a shimmering, 
roseate reflection upon the bluff back of it, and this could be dis- 
cerned from the boat. The wind came stronger, and sometimes a 
wave suddenly raged out like a mountain cat, and there was to be 
seen the sheen and sparkle of a broken crest 

The cap tain, in the bow, moved on his water jar and sat m:ect. 
“Pretty long nig^t” be observed to the correspondent. He looked 
at the shore. “Those lifesaving people take their time.” 

“Did you see that shark playing around?” 


Stephen Crane 

“Yes, I saw him. He was a big fellow, all right.” 

“Wish I had known ypu were awake.” 

Later the correspondent spoke into the bottom of the boat. 

“Billie!” There was a slow and gradual disentan^ement. “Billie, 
will you spell me?” 

“Sure,” said the oiler. 

As soon as the correspondent touched the cold comfortable sea 
water in the bottom of the boat, and had huddled close to the cook’s 
fife belt he was deep in sleep, despite the fact that his teeth played 
all the popular airs. This sleep was so good to him that it was but a 
moment before he heard a voice call his name in a tone that demon- 
strated the last stages of exhaustion. “Will you spell me?” 

“Sure, Billie.” 

The light in the north had mysteriously vanished, but the corre- 
spondent took his course from the wide-awake captain. 

Later in the night they took the boat farther out to sea, and the 
captain directed the cook to take one oar at the stern and keep the 
boat facing the seas. He was to call out if he should hear the thunder 
of the surf. This plan enabled the oiler and the correspondent to get 
respite together. “We’ll g^ve those boys a chance to get into shape 
again,” said the captam. They curled down and, after a few pre- 
liminary chatterings and trembles, slept once more the dead sleep. 
Neither knew they had bequeathed to the cook the company of an- 
other shark, or perhaps the same shark. 

As the boat caroused on the waves, spray occasionally bumped 
over the side and gave them a fresh soaking, but this had no power 
to break their repose. The ominous slash of the wind and the water 
affected them as it would have affected mummies. 

“Boys,” said the cook, with the notes of every reluctance in his 
voice, “riie’s drifted in pretty close. I guess one of you had better 
take her to sea again.” The correspondent, aroused, heard the crash 
of the to^ed crests. 

As he was rowing, the captain gave him some uriiisl^ and water, 
and this steadied the chills out of him. “If I ever get ashore and any- 
body shows me even a photograjdi of an oar ” 

At last there was a short conversation. 

“BiSie. . . . Billie, wffl you spell me?” 

“Sure,” said the oiter. 



W HEN THE CORRESPONDENT again Opened his eyes, the sea and 
the were each of the gray hue of the dawning. Later, car- 
mine and gold was painted upon the waters. The morning speared 
finally, in its splendor, with a slqr of pure blue, and the sunlight 
fliamed on the tips of the waves. 

On the distant dunes were set many little black cottages, and a 
tall white windmill reared above them. No man, nor dog, nor bi- 
cycle appeared on the beach. The cottages mi^t have formed a de- 
serted vUlage. 

The voyagers scanned the shore. A conference was held in the 
boat. “Well,” said the captain, “if no help is coming we might better 
try a run througjh the surf rig^t away. If we stay out here much longer 
we will be too weak to do anything for ourselves at all.” The others 
silently acquiesced in this reasoning. The boat was headed for the 
beach. The correspondent wondered if none ever ascmded the tall 
wind tower, and if then they never looked seaward. This tower was 
a giant, s tanding with its back to the pli^t of the ants. It represented 
in a degree, to the correspondent, die serenity of nature amid the 
struggles of the individual — ^nature in the wind, and nature in the 
vision of men. She did not seem cruel to him then, nor beneficeat, 
nor treacherous, nor wise. But she was indifferent, flatly indifferent. 
It is, perhaps, plausible that a man in this situation, impressed widi 
the unconcern of the universe, should see the innumerable flaws of 
his life, and have them taste wickedly in his mind and wish for an- 
other chance. A distinction between right and wrong seems absurdly 
clear to him, then, in this new ignorance of the ^ave-ed^, and he 
mid<»r8tand« that if he wew jpven another opportunity he would mend 
his conduct and his words, and be bettnr and brighter during an in- 
troduction or at a tea. 

“Now, boys,” said the captain, “she is going to swamp, sure. All 
we can do is to work her in as far as possible, and then when she 
swamps, pile out and scramble for the beach. Keep cool now, and 
don't jump until she swamps sure.” 

The (flier tcxik the oars. Over his steulders he scanned the surf. 
“Captain,” he said, “I think Td better bring hear about, and ke^ her 
head-on to the sma and bad: her hi.” 

^All fi g hf, BlQie,” said die captain. “Batdc h« in.” The (flier swui^ 


Stephen Crane 

the boat then and, seated in the stern, the cook and the correspond* 
ent were obliged to look over their shoulders to contemplate the 
lonely and indifferent shore. 

The monstrous inshore rollers heaved the boat high until the men 
were again enabled to see the white sheets of water scudding up the 
slanted beach. “We won’t get in very close,” said the captain. Each 
time a man could wrest his attention from the rdllbb, he turned his 
g^ce toward the shore, and in the expression of the eyes during 
this contemplation there was a singular quality. The correspondent, 
observing the others, knew that they were not afraid, but the full 
meaning of their glances was shrouded. 

As for himself, he was too tired to grapple fundamentally with 
the fact. He tried to coerce his mind into thinking of it, but the mind 
was dominated at this time by the muscles, and the muscles said they 
did not care. It merely occurred to him that if he should drown it 
would be a shame. 

There were no hurried words, no pallor, no plain agitation. The 
men simply looked at the shore. “Now, remember to get well clear 
of the boat when you jump,” said the captain. 

Seaward the crest of a roller suddenly fell with a thunderous crash, 
and the long white comber came roaring down upon the boat. 

“Steady now,” said the captain. The men were silent. They turned 
their eyes from the shore to the comber and waited. The boat slid up 
the incline, leaped at the furious top, bounced over it, and swung 
down the long back of the wave. Some water had been shipped and 
the cook bailed it out. 

But the next crest crashed also. The tumbling boiling flood of 
white water caught the boat and whirled it almost perpendicular. 
Water swarmed in from all sides. The correspondent had his hands 
on the gunwale at this time, and when the water entered at that 
place he swiftly withdrew hn fingers, as if he objected, to wetting 

The little boat, drunken with this weight of water, reeled and 
snugglled deeper into the sea. 

“Bail her out, cook! Bail her out,” said the captain. 

“All ri^t, captain,” said the cook. 

“Now, boys, the next one will do for us, sure,” said the oiler. “Mind 
to jump clear of the boat.” 

The third wave moved forward, huge, furious, implacable. It 
fiutly swallowed the dinghy, and almost simultaneously the men turn- 


The Open Boat 

bled into the sea. A piece of life belt had lain in the bottom of the 
boat, and as the correspondent went overboard he held this to his 
chest with his left hand. 

The January water was icy, and he reflected immediately that it was 
colder than he had expected to find it off the coast of Florida. This 
appeared to his dazed mind as a fact important enough to be noted 
at the time. The coldness of the water was sad; it was tragic. This fact 
was somehow so mixed and confused with his opinion of his own 
situation that it seemed almost a proper reason for tears. The water 
was cold. 

When he came to the surface he was conscious of little but the 
noisy water. Afterward he saw his companions in the sea. The oiler 
was ahead in the race. He was swimming strongly and rapidly. Off to 
the correspondent’s left, the cook’s great white and corked back 
bulged out of the water, and in the rear the captain was hangjmg with 
his one good hand to the keel of the overturned dinghy. 

There is a certain immovable quality to a shore, and the corre- 
spondent wondered at it amid the confusion of the sea. 

It seemed also very attractive, but the correspondent knew that it 
was a long journey, and he paddled leisurely. The piece of life pre- 
server lay tmder him, and sometimes he whirled down the incline of 
a wave as if he were on a hand-sled. 

But finally he arrived at a place in the sea where travel was beset 
with difficulty. He did not pause swimming to inquire what manner 
of current had caught him, but there his progress ceased. The shore 
was set before him like a bit of scenery on a stage, and he looked at 
it and understood with his eyes each detail of it. 

As the cook passed, much farther to the left, the captain was call- 
ing to him, “Turn over on your back, cook! Turn over on your back 
and use the oar.” 

“All right, sir.” The cook turned on his back, and, paddling with 
an oar, went ahead as if he were a canoe. 

Presently the boat also passed to the left of the correspondent wiffi 
the captain clinging with one hand to the keel. He would have ap- 
peared like a man raising hims elf to look over a board fence, if it 
were not for the extraordinary gymnastics of the boat The corre- 
spondent marveled that the captain could still hold to it. 

They passed on, nearer to shore — the oiler, the cook, the captain— 
and following them went the water jar, bouncing gaHy over die seas; 

The correspondent remained in the grip of this strange new miemy 


Stephen Crane 

— a current. The shore, with its white sl(^ of sand and its green 
Muff, topped with little silent cottages, was spread like a jncture be> 
fore him. It was very near to him then, but he was impressed as one 
who in a gallery looks at a scene from Brittany or Holland. 

He thought: “I am going to drown? Can it be possible? Can it be 
possible? Can it be possible?” Perhaps an individual must consider 
his own death to be Ae final phenomenon of nature. 

But later a wave perhaps whirled him out of this small deadly cur- 
rmit, for he found suddenly that he could again make progress toward 
the shore. Later still, he was aware that the captain, clinging with one 
hand to the keel of the dinghy, had his face turned away from the 
shore and toward him, and was calling his name. “Come to the boat! 
Come to the boat!” 

In his struggle to reach the captain and the boat, he reflected that 
when one gets properly wearied, drowning must really be a com- 
fortable arrangement, a cessation of hostilities accompanied by a large 
degree of relief, and he was glad of it, for the main thing in his 
mind for some moments had been horror of the temporary agony. He 
did not wish to be hurt. 

Presently he saw a man running along the shore. He was undress- 
ing with most remarkable speed. Coat, trousers, shirt, everything flew 
magically off him. 

“Come to the boat,” called the captain. 

“All right, captain.” As the correspondent paddled, he saw the 
captain let hims elf down to bottom and leave the boat. Then the cor- 
respondent performed his one litfle marvel of the voyage. A large 
wave caught him and flung him with ease and supreme speed com- 
pletely over the boat and far beyond it. It struck him even then as an 
event in gymnastics, and a true miracle of the sea. An overturned 
boat in the surf is not a plaything to a swimming man. 

The correspondent arrived in water that reached only-to his waist, 
but his condition did not enable him to stand for more than a mo- 
mmit. Each wave knocked him into a heap, and the undertow pulled 
at him. 

Then he saw the man who had been running and undressing, and 
undressing and running, come bounding into the water. He dragged 
ashore the cook, and then waded toward foe captain, but the captain 
waved him away, and sent him to the correspondent. He was naked, 
naked as a tree in winter, but a halo was alxKit his head,'and he 
shone like a saint. He gave a strong puU, and a long drag, and a bully 


The Open Boat 

heave at the correspondent’s hand. The correspondent, schooled in 
the minor formulas, said: “Thanks, old man.” But suddenly the man 
cried: “What’s that?” He pointed a swift finger. The correspondent 
said: “Go.” 

In the shallows, face downward, lay the oiler. His forehead touched 
sand that was periodically, between each wave, clear of the sea. 

The correspondent did not know all that transpired afterward. 
When he achieved safe ground he fell, striking the sand with each 
particular part of his body. It was as if he had dropped from a roof, 
but the thud was grateful to him. 

It seems that instantly the beach was populated with men with 
blankets, clothes, and flasks, and women with coffeepots and all the 
remedies sacred to their minds. The welcome of the land to the men 
from the sea was warm and generous, but a still and dripping shape 
was carried slowly up the beach, and the land’s welcome for it could 
only be the different and sinister hospitality of the grave. 

When it came night, the white waves paced to and fro in the moon- 
light, and the wind brought the sound of the great sea’s voice to the 
men on shore, and they felt that they could then be interpreters. 







George Rawlinson 


Note: The editors summaries of various omitted passages 
appear italicized and in brackets throughout the text. 


AS THE EARLIEST WRITER of history in Western culture, and in- 
deed the earliest surviving writer of prose of any kind, Herod* 
A. 1l otus of Halicarnassus would be assured of a place of honor in 
literature even without considering his merits. When, in addition to 
being the first, he is also one of the most interesting and readable of 
the long line of Greek historians, and when he deals, as he does, with 
a theme central to world history (the rivalry of East and West that still 
dominates the policies of nations), his work assumes even greater im- 

Whoever approaches Herodotus — ^whether the “tasting” or the vo- 
racious reader— will be caught up by his narrative power and carried 
along in fascination as he weaves m^s and legends with history. But 
it will aug me nt OUT appreciation of his permanent achievement if he 
can be seen against the background of his own time and intellectual 
heritage. For from his Greece, the Greece of the fifth century, a.d., 
flowered not only a tradition of writers of history, but 2500 years of 
European culture. 


Practically nothing is known of Herodotus’ life except what can be 
Inferred from autobiographical allusions in his History. He was b(xn 
sometime around 484 b.c. at Halicarnassus in Asia Minor, and 
thus a Persian citizen for the first thirty years of his life. The son of 
wealthy Ionic Greeks, he was wen educated in the poetry from 
Homer’s time to his own, and he studied earlier prose writers, s^ as 
Hecataeus, whom he criticizes in his History. But most ctf the time to 
traveled in the most dvillzed countries of his day: from Bgypt, with 

its pyramids and camels and strange superstitions, to Susa, the 

luxurious but barbaric capital of the Persian Emnire. Herodotus was 

not just an idle traveler; his curiosity permitted him to collect fasd- 
nating tales, firsthand descriptions of geography and legends about 
the early development of the lands of his time. 

About 447 B.C., Herodotus went to Athens to live, either because 
he was seeking greater intellectual opportunities' 6r because he dis- 
liked the political life of Halicarnassus. He was appreciated at Athens 
and was honored for his works by an award of ten talents (approxi- 
mately $12,000 in modem money), an unprecedented reward for a 
man of letters. But it was difficult for a foreigner to acquire citizenship 
at Athens, and Herodotus soon left with a band of colonists to found 
the dty of Hniiii in southern Italy on the Bay of Tarentum. Tradition 
has it that he died there about 425 b.c. 

His manhood coincided with the great period of Athenian pros- 
perity and leadership that commenced with the end of the Persian 
Wars (479 b.c.) and extended to the beginning of the Peloponnesian 
War (431 b.c.). He was thus a contemporary of such men as Anaxa- 
goras, the scientific philosopher; of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euri- 
pides, the tragic dramatists; of Phidias, the sculptor; and of Pericles, 
the political leader and spokesman of Athenian democracy. He may 
well have conversed with Socrates and with Thucydides, who brought 
Greek historical writing to its most authoritative stage of development. 


PCANTY AS ARE the objective facts of his life, Herodotus’ personality 
is intimately known to us through his work. The fairness and 
candor that impress every reader may be safely assumed to be genuine 
reflections of ffie man himself. Herodotus must have been delightful 
to know and to listen to, a man who could discourse with some au- 
thori^ on almost any topic of interest. Even the hastiest reader will 
be struck by the enormous range of his information. He exploited to 
the full the good fortune of the pioneer luid explorer, telling us much 
of what we know about early Russia, life in Egypt and the Middle 
East. Everything was grist to Us mill because every^g had the claim 
to consideraticm of the new and exciting. And although he tells us 
many things that are contradictory or simply untrue, and though 
bland ciedence of myth causes us to doubt some of his historic 
judgments, Herodotus tries himself to sift truth from fiction;»he tells 

US what he considers most plausible, though he will never hesitate to 
pass on the implausible if he has found pleasure, in its color. The 
curiosity and wonder of childhood ^ve his work a freshness that re- 
minds us of Homer, the poet of the Iliad and Odyssey, who was 
Herodotus’ spiritual master. 


H erodotus’ general subject is the struggle of Greece to achieve 
freedom from the threat of conquest by the older oriental civili- 
zation of Persia. The Ionic Greek settlements of Asia Minor (of 
which Halicarnassus was one) had succumbed to Persian rule in the 
sixth century B.c. At the begmning of the fifth century a revolt of 
these settlements, led by Aristagoras of Miletus, was supported by 
the Athenians who had very recently (508 b.c.) established a demo- 
cratic constitution under the leadership of Clisdienes. The revolt in 
Asia Minor was put down by the energy of the Persian king, Darius. 
A naval expedition under the generals Datis and Artaphemes was 
sent to punish Athens and Eretria, which had also sent aid to the 
rebels. This was the immediate occasion of the First Persian War, 
which ended with the Athenian victory at Marathon (490 b.c.). 

Marathon was not only a victory for Greek independence, but per- 
haps even more significantly, a victory for Athenian democracy. The 
great political question of the day was whether a democratic city- 
state, depending for survival on the co-operation of all its citizens, 
could long endure. Athens, recently freed from tyranny by the hero- 
ism of the tyrannicides Harmodius and Aristogeiton, and by the revo- 
lution of Oisthenes, was the leading proponent of democracy 
throug)iout Greece. Intrigues to re-establish the tyranny wre sup- 
ported from Persia, and a powerful faction of anti-democrats through- 
out the Greek world were pro-Persian in sympathy. An Athenian’ de- 
feat at Marathon would certainly have stifled Greek democracy for 
decades, if not forever. When we think of the indispensable contribu- 
tions of Greek thou^t to the modem world, it is har<fly extravagant 
to believe with Sir Edward Creasy, the Eng^sh historian of Fifteen 
Decisive BtUtles of the World, that the fate not of little Athens done, 
but of all modem Europe hung on the courage of Miltiades and his ten 
thousand hoplites on the Plain of Maralhwi. 

Ten years after Marathon an even more serious attempt to subdue 
Greece was made by Xerxes, Darius’ son and successor, who led over 

the Hellespont (Dardanelles) a huge army supported by a large naval 
armament. This Second Persian War is related in detail by Herodotus. 
It resulted in the decisive Greek victories at Salamis in 480 b.c. (a 
naval battle won chiefly by Athenian seamanship and by the skillful 
scheming of Themistocles, the Athenian leader) and at Plataea (479 
B.C.), where the Spartans under Pausanias destroyed the Persian land 
army. ‘ 

This was the last serious attempt to reduce Greece to a Persian 
province, or with foreign aid, to re-establish the tyranny at Athens. 
The Persian Wars were accordingly regarded by all Greeks, and 
especially by the Athenians, as their greatest national achievement 
and as the beginning of their independence and liberty. 


T TERODOTUs BEGINS his History with semi-legendary stories of the 
^ earliest kingdoms of Asia Minor and of the rise of the Persian 
power under Cyrus the Great. The first five books — ^more than half 
the total bulk of the work — are essentially introductory to the main 
theme. (The account of the battle of Marathon does not come till the 
end of Book VI, while the war with Xerxes is described in Books VII, 
VIII and DC.) Yet this introductory part, unhistorical though much 
of it is, contains many of Herodotus’ most famous and fascinating 
stories — of Gyges and Candaules, of Croesus and Solon, of Rhamp- 
sinitus and Ladronius — along with a great mine of miscellaneous 

These early books comprise the background for Herodotus’ main 
theme; the great Persian Wars in which Greece preserved her inde- 
pendence and achieved a significant level of national unity and na- 
tional co-operation in the face of common danger, and in which 
Athens rose to the political, cultural and spiritual leadership of the 
Greek world. Hie anecdotal character of Aese earliec books is in- 
creasingly subordinated to an analysis of causes whidi elevates the 
work to the level of philosophical history and in many passages fore- 
shadows the later and more sophisticated work of Thucydides. 

As he approadied his own time and nation, Herodotus’ sources 
of information became richer and more reliable, while his enthusiasm 
rose with the greatness of his subject. It is the second half of his His- 
tmy, Books V to DC, that has given the world the classic picture of 
democracy eme^ing in Greece, particularly in Athens, and confront- 

ing the age-old despotism of the Orient with the new principles of in- 
dividual liberty under law. 


Great as Herodotus, the “Father of History,” is, it is as the voice 
of Greek freedom and Greek nationalism that he gained ascendency 
over the hearts of poets and patriots of later ages, and it is as the voice 
of Democracy confronting Totalitarianism that he remains of vital 
interest today. 

The sun, the soil, but not the slave, the same; 

Unchanged in all except its foreign lord; 

Preserves alike its bounds and boundless fame 
The Battle-field, where Persia's victim horde 
First bowed beneath the brunt of Hellas’ sword, 

As on the mom to distant Glory dear, 

When Marathon became a magic word; 

Which uttered, to the hearer’s eye appear 

The camp, the host, the fight, the conqueror’s career, 

The flying Mede, his shaftless broken bow; 

The fiery Greek, his red pursuing spear; 

Mountains above. Earth’s, Ocean’s plcun below; 

Death in the front, Destruction in the rear! 

Such was the scene — what now remaineth here? 

What sacred trophy marks the hallowed ground, 

Recording Freedom’s smile and Asids tear? 

The rifled um, the violated mourtd. 

The dust thy courser’s hoof, rude stranger! spurns around. 

So the nineteenth-century English poet Byron, lamenting- the low 
estate to which Turkish domination had brought Greece, harked back 
to the great tradition immortalized by Herodotus. It is no accident 
that Herodotus was one of the favorite authors of Thomas Jefferson 
and Patrick Henry. As long as men find inspiration in the heroic de- 
fense of homeland and liberty, Herodotus wiU be read. 


^NE OF THE GREATEST events of the Second Persian War was the 
defense of the pass at Thermopylae by Leonidas and his three 

hundred Spartans and seven hundred Thespians. Few are the school- 
children of modem Europe and America who have not thrilled at 
the story. The stone lion that was erected to the memory of those 
brave men has disappeared with the ages, but the epitaph written by 
Simonides (“Go tell the Spartans, stranger, that we lie here obedient 
to duty”) and the account of Herodotus live on. 

On the march into Greece, Xerxes asked the Greek Demaratus 
whether the Greeks would dare to lift a hand against him. Demaratus 
answered: “Is it thy will, O king, that 1 give thee a tme answer or a 
pleasant one?” When Xerxes then told him to speak the truth, 
Demaratus predicted that the Spartans would never submit, and 
added: . . though they be free men, they are not free in all re- 

spects, for they have a master whom they fear more than thy subjects 
fear thee. This master is their Law. Whatever he commands, they do; 
and his commandment is always the same: it forbids them to flee from 
battle whatever the number of their foes, and requires them to stand 
firm and either to conquer or die.” 

Courage is not confined to any one nation or any one time, and 
the bravery of Leonidas and his men has been matched more than 
once, but seldom has it been more dramatically demonstrated, and 
never more widely commemorated. 

The King with half the East at heel has marched 
from lands of morning; 

Their fighters drink the rivers up, their shafts 
benight the air; 

And he who stands must die tonight, and home there’s 
no returning: 

The Spartans on the sea-wet rock sat down and combed 
their hear. 

Thus A. E. Housman, nearly a hundred years after Byron, testified 
anew to the undiminishing inspiration of Herodotus. 


With the possible exception of Plutarch, no other Greek writer 
exc^t Homer has been more thoroughly mined by later writos than 
Herodotus. English literature is full of fusions to him and his wtm- 
derful history. From him come Shakespeare’s “barbarous Scythian” 

and Milton’s “dark Gnunerian desert.” The story of Mycerinus of 
Egypt, found in the History, is retold by Matthew Arnold. Herodotus’ 
phrase “as rich as Croesus” has been for hundreds of years a prover- 
bial expression for wealth too great to assess. The General Post Office 
building in New York City bears the inscription, “Neither rain nor 
snow nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers in the swift 
completion of their appointed rounds” — ^which translates Herodotus’ 
praise of the royal Persian couriers on the occasion qf Xerxes’ report 
of his defeat at Salamis. 

One of the delights of reading Herodotus, especially for the first 
time, is this “shock of recognition” at discovering the origm of stories 
and sayings which have long been familiar. 


T hese are the researches of Herodotus of Halicarnassus, which 
he publishes in the hope of thereby preserving from decay the 
remembrance of what men have done, and of preventing the great and 
wonderful actions of the Greeks and the barbarians from losing their 
due meed of glory; and withal to put on record what were their 
grounds of feud. 

According to the Persians best informed in history, the Phoenicians 
began the quarrel. This people, who had formerly dwelt on the shores 
of the Persian Gulf, having migrated to the Meditenanean and settled 
in the parts which they now inhabit, began at once, they say, to 
adventure on long voyages, freighting their vessels with the wares of 
Egypt and Assyria. They landed at many places on the coast, and 
among the rest at Argos, which was then pre-eminent above all the 
states included now under the common name of Greece. Here they 
exposed their merchandise, and traded with the natives for five or six 
days; at the end of which time, when almost everything was sold, there 
came down to the beach a number of women, and among them 
the daughter of the king, who was, they say, agreeing in this with the 
Greeks, lo, the child of Inachus. The women were standing by the 
stem of the ship intent upon their purchases, when the Phoenicians, 
with a general shout, rushed upon them. The greater part made their 
escape, but some were seized and carried off. lo herself was among 
the captives. The Phoenicians put the women on board their vessel, 
and set sail for Egypt. Thus did lo pass into Egypt, according to the 
Persian story, which differs widely from the Phoenician; and thus 
commenced, according to their authors, the series of outrages. 

* Eadi of the nine books is named for one of the nine Muses. 

Translated by George Rawlinson 

At a later period, certain Greeks, with whose name they are un- 
acquainted, but who would probably be Cretans, made a landing at 
Tyre, on the Phoenician coast, and bore off the king’s daughter, 
Europa. In this they only retaliated; but afterwards the Greeks, they 
say, were guilty of a second violence. They maimed a ship of war, and 
sailed to Aea, a ci^ of Colchis on the river Phasis; from whence, 
after dispatching the rest of the business on which they had come, they 
carried off Medea, the daughter of the king of the Igqd. The monarch 
sent a herald into Greece to demand reparation of the wrong, and the 
restitution of his child; but the Greeks made answer that, having 
received no reparation of the wrong done them in the seizure of lo, 
they should give none in this instance. 

In the next generation afterwards, according to the same authorities, 
Paris, the son of Priam, bearing these events in mind, resolved to 
procure himself a wife out of Greece by violence, fully persuaded that, 
as the Greeks had not given satisfaction for their outrages, so neither 
would he be forced to make any for his. Accordingly he made prize 
of Helen; upon which the Greeks decided that, before resorting to 
other measures, they would send envoys to reclaim the princess and 
require reparation of the wrong. Their demands were met by a refer- 
ence to the violence which had been offered to Medea, and they were 
asked with what face they could now require satisfaction, when they 
had formerly rejected all demands for ei^er reparation or restitution 
addressed to them. 

■Hitherto the injuries on either side had been mere acts of commcm 
violence; but in what followed, the Persians consider that the Greeks 
were greatly to blame, since before any attack bad been made on 
Europe, they led an army into Asia. Now as for the carrying off of 
women, it is the deed, they say, of a rogue; but to make a stir about 
such as are carried off argues a man a fool. Men of sense care nothing 
for such won^, since it is plain that without their own consent they 
would never be forced away. .The Asiatics, when the Greeks ran off 
with their women, never troubled themselves about the IBiatter; but 
the Greeks, for the sake of a single girl, collected a vast armament, 
invaded Asia and destroyed the kingdom of Priam. Henceforth they 
ever looked upon the Greeks as their open enemies. For Asia, with 
an the vuious tribes of barbarians that inhabit it, is regarded by die 
Persians as their own; but Europe and the Greek race they look on as 
distinct and separate. 

Such is the account which the Persians ^ve of these matters^ They 



Translated by George Rawlinson 
trace to the attack upon Troy their ancient emnity toward the Greeks. 
The Phoenicians, however, as regards lo, vary from the Persian state- 
ments. They deny that they used any violence to remove her into 
Egypt; she herself, they say, having formed an intimacy with the cap- 
tain, while his vessel lay at Argos, and perceiving herself to be with 
child, of her own free wUl accompanied the Phoenicians on their 
leaving the shore to escape the shame of detection and the reproaches 
of her parents. Whether this latter account be true^ «r whether the 
matter happened otherwise, I shall not discuss further. I shall proceed 
at once to point out the person who first within my own knowledge 
inflicted injury on the Greeks, after which I shall go forward with my 
history, describing equally the greater and the lesser cities. For the 
cities which were formerly great, have most of them become insignifi- 
cant; and such as are at present powerful, were weak in the olden 
time. I shall therefore discourse equally of both, convinced that hu- 
man happiness never continues long in one stay. 

Croesus, by birth a Lydian, was lord of all the nations to the west 
of the River Halys. This stream, which separates Cappadocia from 
Paphlagonia, runs with a course from south to north, and finally falls 
into the Black Sea. So far as our knowledge goes, he was the first of 
the barbarians who had dealings with the Greeks, forcing some of 
them to become his tributaries, and entering into alliance with others. 
He conquered the Aeolians, lonians and Dorians of Asia, and made a 
treaty with the Lacedaemonians. Up to that time aU Greeks had been 
free. For the Cimmerian attack upon Ionia, which was earlier than 
Croesus, was not a conquest of the cities, but only an inroad for plun- 

The sovereignty of Lydia, which had belonged to the Heraclides, 
passed into the family of Croesus, in the manner which I will now 
relate. There was a certain king of the city Sardis, Candaules by 
name. He was a descendant of Alcaeus, son of Hercules. The first king 
of this dynasty was Agron, great-grandson of Alcaeus; Can(^ules was 
the last. The kings who reigned before Agron sprang from Lydus, 
from whom the people of the land received the name of Lydians. Ihe 
Heraclides, descended from Hercules and the slave girl of Jardanus, 
having been entrusted by these princes with the management of 
affairs, obtained the kingdom by an oracle. Their rule endured for two 
and twenty generations of men, a space of five hundred and five years; 
during the whole of which period, from Agron to Candaules, the 
crown descended in the direct line from father to son. 


The History of Herodotus 

Now it happened that this Candaides was in love with his own wife; 
and not only so, but thought her tltt fairest woman in the vdude 
world. This fancy had strange consequences. There was in his body- 
guard a man whom he specially favored, Gyges. All affairs of greatest 
moment were entrusted by Candaules to this person, and to him he 
was wont to extol the surpassing beauty of his wife. So matters went 
on for a while. At length, one day, Candaules, who was fated to end 
ill, ffius addressed his follower: “1 see thou dost not credit what I tell 
thee of my lady’s loveliness; but come now, since men’s ears are less 
credulous than their eyes, contrive some means whereby diou mayst 
behold her naked.” At this the other loudly exclaimed, saying, “What 
most unwise speech is this, master, which thou bast uttered? Wouldst 
thou have me behold my mistress when she is ndced? Bethink thee 
that a woman, with her clothes, puts off her bashfulness. CXir fathers, 
in time past, distinguished right and wrong plainly enough, and it is 
our wisdom to submit to be taught by them. There is an old saying, 
‘Let each look on his own.’ I hold thy wife for the fairest of dl woman- 
kind. Only, I beseech thee, ask me not to do wickedly.” 

Gyges thus endeavored to decline the king’s proposal, trembling 
lest some dreadful evil should befall him throng it. But the king 
replied to him, “Courage, friend; suspect me not of the design to prove 
thee by this discourse; nor dread thy mistress, lest mischief befall thee 
at her hands. Be sure 1 will so manage that she shall not even know 
that thou hast looked upon her. I will place thee behind the open 
door of the chamber in which we sleep. V^en I enter to gp to rest she 
will follow me. There stands a chair close to the entrance, on which 
she will lay her clothes one by one as she takes them off. Thou wilt 
be able thus at thy leisure to peruse her person. Then, when she is 
moving from the chair toward the bed, and her back is turned on thee, 
be it thy care that she see thee not as thou passest through the dotnr- 

Gyges, unable to escape, could but declare his readiness.- Then 
Candaules, when bedtime came, led Gyges into his sleeping chamber, 
and a moment after the queen followed. She entered, and laid her 
garments on the chair, and Gyges gazed on her. After a wbOe she 
moved toward the bed, and her back being then turned, he ^ided 
stealthily feom the apartment. As he was passing out, however, she 
saw him, and instantly divining what had happened, she neither 
screamed as her shame impelled her, nor even appeared to have no- 
ticed aught, proposing to take vengeance upon the husband who had 


Translated by George Rawlinson 
so affronted her. For among the Lydians, and indeed among the bar- 
barians generally, it is reckoned a deep disgrace, even to a man, to 
be seen naked. 

No sound or sign of intelligence escaped her at the time. But in the 
morning, as soon as day broke, she hastened to choose from among 
her retinue, such as she knew to be most faithful to her and, preparing 
them for what was to ensue, summoned Gyges into her presence. Now 
it had often happened before that the queen had dqsired to confer 
with him, and he was accustomed to come to her at her call. He there- 
fore obeyed the summons, not suspecting that she knew aught of 
what had occurred. Then she addressed these words to him: “Take 
thy choice, Gyges, of two courses which are open to thee. Slay Can- 
daules and thereby become my lord and obtain the Lydian throne, or 
die this moment in his room. So wilt thou not again, obeying all be- 
hests of thy master, behold what is not lawful for thee. It must needs 
be that either he perish by whose counsel this thing was done, or 
thou, who sawest me naked, and so didst break our usages.” 

At these words Gyges stood awhile in mute astonishment; recover- 
ing after a time, he earnestly besought the queen that she would not 
compel him to so hard a choice. But finding he implored in vain, and 
that necessity was indeed laid on him to kill or to be killed, he made 
dioice of life for himself, and replied by this inquiry: “If it must be 
so, and thou compellest me against my will to put my lord to death, 
come, let me hear how thou wilt have me set on him.” “Let him be at- 
tacked,” she answered, “on that spot where I was by him shown na- 
ked to you, and let the assault be made when he is asleep.” 

All was then prepared for the attack, and when night fell, Gyges, 
seeing that he had no retreat or escape, but must absolutely either 
slay Candaules or be slain himself, followed his mistress into the sleep- 
ing room. She placed a dagger in his hand and hid him carefully be- 
hind the same door. Then Gyges, when the king had fallen asleep, 
entered into the chamber and struck him dead. Thus did the wife and 
kin^m of Candaules pass into the possession of Gyges. ~ 

Gyges was afterwards confirmed in the possession of the throne 
by an answer of the Delphic oracle. Enraged at the murder of their 
king, the people flew to arms, but after a while the partisans of Gy^s 
came to terms with them, and it was agreed that if the Delphic oracle 
declared him king of the Lydians, he should reipi; if otherwise, he 
should yield the throne to the Heraclides. As the oracle was given 
in his favmr, he became king. The oracle, however, added that in the 


The History of Herodotus 

fifth generaticm from Gyges vengeance should come for the Heracli- 
des, a prophecy of which neither the Lydians nor their princes took 
any account till it was fulfilled. Such was the way in which the Merm- 
nadae deposed the Heraclides and themselves obtained the sover- 

When Gyges was established on the throne, he sent no small pres- 
ents to Delphi, as his many silver offerings at the Delphic shrine tes- 
tify. Besides this silver he gave a vast number of vessels of gold, among 
which the most worthy of mention are the goblets, six in number, 
and weighing together thirty talents, which stand in the Corinthian 
treasury, dedicated by him. Excepting Midas, king of Phrygia, Gyges 
was the first of the barbarians whom we know to have sent offerings 
to Delphi. Midas dedicated the royal throne whereon he was accus- 
tomed to sit and administer justice, an object well worth looking at. 
It lies in the same place as the goblets presented by Gyges. The Del- 
phians call the whole of the silver and the gold which Gyges dedicated 
after the name of the donor, Gygian. 

As soon as Gyges was king, he made an inroad on Miletus and 
Smyrna, and took the city of Colophon. Afterwards, however, though 
he reigned eight and thirty years, he did not perform a single noble 
exploit. I shall therefore make no further mention of him, but pass on 
to his son and successor in the kingdom, Ardys. 

He reigned forty-nine years, and was succeeded by his son, 
Sadyattes, who reigned twelve years. At his death his son Alyattes 
mounted the throne. 

On the death of Alyattes, Croesus, his son, who was thirty-five years 
old, succeeded to the throne. Of the Greek cities, Ephesus was the 
first that he attacked. The Ephesians, when he laid siege to the place, 
made an offering of their cify to Diana, by stretching a tope from the 
town wall to the temple of the goddess, which was distant firom the 
ancimt city, then besieged by Croesus, a space of seven furlongs. 
They were, as I said, the first Greeks whom he attacked. Afterwards, 
on some pretext or other, he made war in turn upon every Ionian 
and Aeolian state, bringing forward, where he could, a substantial 
ground of complaint; where such failed him, advancing some poor 

In this way he made himself masto: of all die Greek cities in Asia, 
and forced them to become his tributaries; after which he began to 
think of building ships and attacking the islanders. Everydiing had 
been got ready for this purpose, when Bias of Priene put a stop to the 


Translated by George Rawlinson 
project. The king had made inquiry of this person, who was lately 
arrived at Sardis, if there were any news^ from Greece; to which he 
answered, “Yes, sir, the islanders are gathering ten thousand horse, 
designing an expedition against thee and against thy capital.” 

Croesus, thinking he spoke seriously, broke out, “Ah, might the 
gods put such a thought into their minds as to attack the sons of the 
Lydians with cavalry!” “It seems, oh! king,” rejoined the other, “that 
thou desirest earnestly to catch the islanders on hors^ack upon the 
mainland — ^thou knowest well what would come of it. But what think- 
est thou the islanders desire better, now that they hear thou art about 
to build ships and sail against them, than to catch the Lydians at sea, 
and there revenge on them the wrongs of their brothers upon the 
mainland, whom thou boldest in slavery?” Croesus was charmed with 
the turn of the speech; and thinking there was reason in what was 
said, gave up his shipbuilding and concluded a league of amity with 
the lonians of the isles. 

Croesus afterwards, in the course of many years, brought under 
his sway almost all the nations to the west of the Halys. The Lycians 
and Cilicians alone continued free; all the other tribes he reduced 
and held in subjection. 

When all these conquests had been added to the Lydian empire, 
and the prosperi^ of Sardis was now at its height, there came thither, 
one after another, all the sages of Greece living at the time, and 
among them Solon, the Athenian.* He was on his travels, having left 
Athens to be absent ten years, under the pretense of wishing to see 
the world, but really to avoid being forced to repeal any of the laws 
which, at the request of the Athenians, he had made for them. With- 
out his Sanction the Athenians could not repeal them, as they had 
bound themselves under a heavy curse to be governed for ten years 
by the laws which should be imposed on them by Solon. 

On this account, as well as to see the world, Solon set out upon his 
travels, in the course of which he went to Egypt to the court of 
Amasis, and also came on a visit to Croesus at Sardis. Croesus re- 
ceived him as his guest, and lodged him in the royal palace. On the 
third or fourth day after, he bade his servants conduct Solon over 
his treasuries, and show him all their greatness and magnificence. 
When he had seen them all, and, so far as time allowed, inspected 
them, Croesus addressed this question to him. “Stranger of Athens, 
we have heard much of thy wisdom and of thy travels through many 
* Croesus probably ruled from 568 to 554 B.c. ^ 


The History of Herodotus 

lands, from love of knowledge and a wish to see the world. I am curi- 
ous therefore to inquire of thee, whom, of all the men that thou hast 
seen, thou deemest the most happy?” 

This he asked because he thou^t himself the happiest of mortals; 
but Solon answered him without flattery, according to his true senti- 
ments, “Tellus of Athens, sir.” Full of astonishment at what he heard, 
Croesus demanded sharply, “And wherefore dost thou deem Tellus 
happiest?” To which the other replied, “First, because his country 
was flourishing in his days, and he himself had sons both beautiful 
and good, and he lived to see children bom to each of them, and these 
children all grew up; and further because, after a life spent in what 
our people look upon as comfort, his end was surpassingly glorious. 
In a battle between the Athenians and their neighbors near Eleusis, 
he came to the assistance of his countrymen, routed the foe and died 
upon the field most gallantly. The Athenians gave him a public fu- 
neral on the spot where he fell and paid him the highest honors.” 

Thus did Solon admonish Croesus by the example of Tellus, enu- 
merating the manifold particulars of his happiness. When he had 
ended, Croesus inquired a second time, who after Tellus seemed to 
him the happiest, expecting that at any rate, he would be given the 
second place. “Qeobis and Bito,” Solon answered; “they were of 
Greek race; their fortune was enough for their wants, and they were 
besides endowed with so much bodily strength that they had both 
gained prizes at the Games. Also this t^e is told of them. 

“There was a great festival in honor of the goddess Juno at Argos, 
to which their mother must needs be taken in a car. Now the oxen did 
not come home from the field in time, so the youths, fearful of being 
too late, put the yoke on their own necks, and themselves drew the 
car in which their mother rode. Five and forty furlongs did they draw 
her, and stopped before the temple. This deed of theirs was witnessed 
by the whole assembly of worshipers, and then their life closed in the 
best possible way. Herein, too, God showed forth most evidently how 
much better a thing for man death is than life. For the Argive men 
who stood around the car extolled the vast strength of the youths; and 
the Argive women extolled the mother ^^o was blessed with such a 
pair of sons; and the mother herself, overjoyed at the deed and at the 
praises it had won, standing straight before the image, besougjht the 
goddess to bestow on Qeobis and Bito, the sons who had so mightily 
honored her, the highest blessing to whidi mortals can attain. Her 
prayer ended, they offered sacrifice and partook of the holy banquet, 


Translated by George Rawlinson 
after whidi the two youths fell asleep in the temple. They never woke 
more, but so passed from the earth. The Argives, looking on them 
as among the best of men, caused statues of them to be made, which 
they gave to the shrine at Delphi.” 

When Solon had thus assigned these youths the second place, 
Croesus broke in angrily, “What, stranger of Athens, is my happi- 
ness, then, so utterly set at nought by thee, that thou dost not even 
put me on a level with private men?” 

“Oh! Croesus,” replied the other, “thou asked a question con- 
cerning the condition of man, of one who knows that the power above 
us is full of jealousy, and fond of troubling our lot. A long life gives 
•one to witness much, and experience much oneself, that one would 
not choose. Seventy years I regard as the limit of the life of man. In 
these seventy years are contained, without reckoning intercalary 
months, twenty-five thousand and two hundred days. Add an inter- 
calary month to every other year, that the seasons may come around 
at the right time, and there will be, besides the seventy years, thirty- 
five such months, making an addition of one thousand and fifty days. 
The whole number of the days contained in the seventy years will 
thus be twenty-six thousand two hundred and fifty, whereof not one 
but wiU produce events unlike the rest. Hence man is wholly accident. 
For thyself, O Croesus, I see that thou art wonderfully rich, and art 
the lord of many nations; but with respect to that whereon thou 
questionest me, I have no answer to give, until I hear that thou hast 
closed thy life happily. For assuredly he who possesses great store of 
riches is no nearer happiness than he who has what suffices for his 
daily needs, unless it so happen that luck attend upon him, and so he 
continue in the enjoyment of all his good things to the end of life. For 
many of the wealthiest men have been unfavored of fortune, and 
many whose means were moderate have had excellent luck. Men of 
the former dass excel those of the latter but in two respects; these 
last excel the former in many. Tbe wealthy man is better able to con- 
tent his desires and to bear up against a sudden buffet ot calamity. 
The other has less ability to withstand these evils (from which, how- 
evo-, his good luck keeps him dear), but he enjoys all these following 
bl^sin^: he is whole of limb, a stranger to disease, free from misfor- 
tune, happy in his children, and comely to look upon. If, in addition to 
aU this, he end his life well, he is of a truth the man of whom tiiou art 
in search, the man who may rightly be termed haiq>y. Call him, how- 
ever until he die, not happy but fortunate. Scarcely, indeed, can any 


The History of Herodotus 

man unite all these advantages; as there is no country which contaks 
within it all that it needs, but each, while it possesses some things, 
lacks others, and the best country is that which contains the most; so 
no single human being is complete in every respect — something is al- 
ways lacking. He who unites the greatest number of advantages and, 
retaining them to the day of his death, then dies peaceably, that man 
alone, sir, is, in my judgment, entitled to bear the name of ‘happy.’ 
But in every matter it behooves us to mark well the end; for often- 
times God gives men a gleam of happiness, and then plunges them 
into ruin.” 

Such was the speech which Solon addressed to Croesus, a speech 
which brought him neither largess nor honor. The king saw him de- 
part with much indifference, since he thought that a man must be an 
arrant fool who made no account of present good, but bade men al- 
ways wait and mark the end. 

After Solon had gone away a dreadful vengeance, sent of God, 
came upon Croesus, to punish him, it is likely, for deeming himself 
the happiest of men. First he had a dream in the night, which fore- 
showed him truly the evUs that were about to befall him in the person 
' of his son. For Croesus had two sons, one blasted by a natural defect, 
being deaf and dumb; the other, distinguished far above all his co- 
mates in every pursuit. The name of the last was Atys. It was this son 
concerning whom he dreamed a dream, that he would die by the blow 
of an iron weapon. When he woke, he considered earnestly with him- 
self, and, greatly al2urmed at the dream, instantly made his son take a 
wife, and whereas in former years the youth had been wont to com- 
mand the Lydian forces in the field, he now would not suffer him to 
accompany them. All the spears and javelins and weapons used in 
the wars he removed out of the male apartments and laid in heaps in 
the chambers of the women, fearing lest perhaps one of the weapons 
that hung against the wall might fall and strike him. 

Now it chanced that while he was making arrangements for the 
wedding, there came to Sardis a man xmder a misfortune, who had 
upon him the stain of blood. He was by race a Phrygian, and belonged 
to the family of the king. Presenting himself at the palace of Croesus, 
he prayed to be admitted to purification according to the customs of 
the country. Now the Lydian method of purifying is very nearly the 
same as the Greek. Croesus granted the request and went through 
all the customary rites, after which he asked Ae siq>pliant oi his birth 
and country, addressing him as follows: “Who art thou, strange, 


Translated by George Rawlinson 
and from what part of Phrygia fled thou to take refuge at my hearth? 
And whom, moreover, what man or what woman, hast thou slain?” 
“Oh king!” replied the Phrygian. “I am the son of Gordias, son of 
Midas. I am named Adrastus.* The man 1 unintentionally slew was 
my own brother. For this my father drove me from the land, and I 
lost all. Then fled 1 here to thee.” “Thou art the offspring,” Croesus 
rejoined, “of a house friendly to mine, and thou art come to friends. 
Thou shalt want for nothing so long as thou abidest in my dominions. 
Bear thy misfortune as easily as thou mayest, so will it go best with 
thee.” Thenceforth Adrastus lived in the palace of the king. 

It chanced that at this very same time there was on the Mount 
Olympus in Mysia a huge monster of a boar, which went forth often 
from this mountain country, and wasted the cornfields of the Mysi- 
ans. Many a time had the Mysians collected to hunt the beast, but 
instead of doing him any hurt, they came off always with some loss 
to themselves. At length they sent ambassadors to Croesus, who de- 
livered their message to him in these words: “Oh! king, a mighty 
monster of a boar has appeared in our parts, and destroys the labor 
of our hands. We do our best to take him, but in vain. Now there- 
fore we beseech thee to let thy son accompany us back with some 
chosen youths and hounds, that we may rid our country of the an- 
imal.” Such was the tenor of their prayer. 

But Croesus thought of his dream and answered, “Say no more 
of my son going with you; that may not be in any way. He is but just 
joined in wedlock and is busy enough with that. I will grant you a 
picked band of Lydians and all my huntsmen and hounds; and I will 
charge those whom I send to use all zeal in aiding you to rid your 
country of the brute.” 

With this reply the Mysians were content; but the king’s son, hear- 
ing what the prayer of the Mysians was, came suddenly in and, on 
the refusal of Qroesus to let him go with them, thus addressed his 
father: “Formerly, my father, it was deemed the noblest and most 
suitable thing for me to frequent the wars and hunting parties, and 
win myself glory in them; but now thou keepest me away from both, 
although fhou ^t never beheld in me either cowardice or lack of 
spirit. What face meanwhile must I wear as I walk to the market or 
netum from it? What must the citizens, what must my young bride 
think of me? What sort of man will she suppose her husband to be? 
* Adrastus means “doomed” m CreeL 

The History of Herodotus 

Either, therefore, let me go to the chase of this boar, or give me a 
reason why it is best for me to do according to thy wishes.” 

Then Croesus answered, “My son, it is not because I have seen 
in thee either cowardice or au^t else which has displeased me that 
I keep thee back; but because a vision which came before me in a 
dream as I slept, warned me that thou wert doomed to die young, 
pierced by an iron weapon. It was this which first led me to hasten 
on thy wedding, and now it hinders me from sending thee upon this 
enterprise. Fain would I keep watch over thee, if by any means I may 
cheat fate of thee during my own lifetime. For thou art the one and 
only son that I possess; the other, whose hearing is destroyed, 1 re< 
gard as if he were not.” 

“Ah! father,” returned the youth, “I blame thee not for keeping 
watch over me after a dream so terrible; but if thou mistakest, if thou 
dost not apprehend the dream aright, ’tis no blame for me to show 
thee wherein thou errest. Now the dream, thou saidst thyself, fore- 
told that I should die stricken by an iron weapon. But what hands 
has a boar to strike with? What iron weapon does he wield? Yet this 
is what thou fearest for me. Had the dream said that I should die 
pierced by a tusk, then thou hadst done well to keep me away; but it 
said a weapon. Now here we do not combat men, but a wild animal. 
I pray thee, therefore, let me go with them.” 

“There thou hast me, my son,” said Croesus, “thy interpretation 
is better than mine. 1 yield to it, and change my mind and consent 
to let thee go.” 

Then the king sent for Adrastus, the Phrygian, and said to him, 
“Adrastus, when thou wert smitten with the rod of affliction — no re- 
proach, my friend — I purified thee, and have taken thee to live with 
me in my palace, and have been at every charge. Now, therefore, it 
behooves thee to requite the good offices which thou hast received at 
my hands by consenting to go with my son on this hunting party, and 
to watch over him, if perchance you should be attacked upon the 
road by some band of daring robbers. Even apart from this, it were 
right for thee to go where thou mayest make thyself famous by noble 
deeds. They are the heritage of thy family, and thou too art so stal- 
wart and strong.” 

Adrastus answered, “Except for thy request, O king, I would 
rather have kept away from this hunt; for I think it ill beseems a man 
under a misfortune such as mine to consort with his happier com- 


Translated by George Rawlinson 
peers; and besides, I have no heart for it On many grounds I would 
have stayed behind; but, as thou urgest it and I am bound to pleasure 
thee (for truly it does behoove me to requite thy good offices), I am 
content to do as thou wishest For thy son, whom thou givest into my 
charge, be sure thou shalt receive him back safe and sound, so far as 
depends upon a guardian’s carefulness.” 

Thus assured, Croesus let them depart, accompanied by a band 
of picked youths, and well provided with dogs of chase. When they 
reached Mysian Olympus, they scattered in quest of the animal; he 
was soon found, and the hunters, drawing around him in a circle, 
hurled their weapons at him. Then the stranger, the man who had been 
purihed of blood, whose name was Adrastus, he also hurled his spear 
at the boar, but missed his aim and struck Atys. Thus was the son of 
Croesus slain by the point of an iron weapon, and the warning of the 
vision was fulfilled. Then someone ran to Sardis to bear the tidings 
to the king, and he came and informed him of the combat and of the 
fate that had befallen his son. 

If it was a heavy blow to the father to learn that his child was dead, 
it yet more strongly affected him to think that the very man whom he 
himself once purified had done the deed. In the violence of his grief 
he called aloud on Jupiter the Purifier to be a witness of what he had 
suffered at the stranger’s hands. Afterwards he invoked the same god 
as Jupiter of Hearths and Companions — ^using the first term because 
he had unwittingly harbored in his house the man who had now slain 
his son; and the other, because the stranger who had been sent as his 
child’s guardian had turned out his most cruel enemy. 

Presently the Lydians arrived, bearing the body of the youth, and 
behind them followed the homicide. He took his stand in front of the 
corpse, and, stretching forth his hands to Croesus, delivered himself 
into his power with earnest entreaties that he sacrifice him upon the 
body of his son; “his former misfortune was burden enough; now that 
he had added to it a second, and had brought ruin on the man who 
purified him, he could not bear to live.” Then Croesus, whehlie heard 
these words, was moved with pity toward Adrastus, notwithstanding 
the bittem^s of his own calamity; and so he answered, “Enough, my 
friend; 1 have all the revenge that I require, since thou givest sentence 
of death against thyself. But in truth it is not thou who hast injured 
me, except so far as tlmu hast unwittingly dealt the blow. Some god 
is ffie author of my misfortune, and I was forewarned of it a long 
time ago.” Croesus, after this, buried the body of his son with such 


The History of Herodotus 

honors as befitted the occasion. Adrastus, the destroyer of his brother 
in time past, the destroyer now of his purifier, regarding himself as 
the most unfortunate wretch whom he had ever known, as soon as all 
was quiet about the place, slew himself upon the tomb. Croesus, 
bereft of his son, gave himself up to mourning for two full years. 

At the end of this time the grief of Croesus was interrupted by 
intelligence from abroad. He learnt that Cyrus and the Persians were 
becoming daily more powerful. This led him to consider whether it 
were possible to check the growing power of that people before it 
came to a head. With this design he resolved to make instant trial 
of the several oracles in Greece, and of the one in Libya. So he sent 
his messengers in different directions, some to Delphi, some to Phocis, 
and some to Dodona; others to MUesia. To Libya he sent another em- 
bassy, to consult the oracle of Ammon. These messengers were sent 
to test the knowledge of the oracles, that, if they were found really 
to return true answers, he might send a second time and inquire if 
he ought to attack the Persians. 

The messengers who were dispatched to make trial of the oracles 
were given the following instructions: they were to keep count of the 
days from the time of their leaving Sardis, and, reckoning from that 
date, on the hundredth day they were to consult the oracles and to 
inquire of them what Croesus, king of Lydia, was doing at that mo- 
ment. The answers ^ven them were to be taken down in writing, and 
brought back to him. None of the replies remains on record except 
that of the oracle at Delphi. There, the moment that the Lydians 
entered the sanctuary, and before they put their questions, the Python- 
ess thus answered them in hexameter verse: 

I can count the sands, and / can measure the ocean; 

/ have ears for the silent, and know what the dumb man meaneth; 

Lo! on my sense there striketh the smell of a shell-covered tortoise. 

Boiling now on a fire, with the flesh of a lamb, in a cauldron — . 

Brass is the vessel below, and brass the cover above it. 

These words the Lydians wrote down at the mouth of the Pythoness 
as she prophesied, and then set off on their return to Sardis. When aU 
the messengers had come back with the answers which ffiey had re- 
ceived, Croesus undid the rolls and read what was written in each. 
Only one approved itself to him, that of the Delphic oracle. This he 
had no socmer heard than he instantly made an act of adoration and 
accepted it as true, declaring that the Delphic was the cndy really 


Translated by George Rawlinson 
oracular shrine, the only one that had discovered in what way he was 
in fact employed. For on the departure of his messengers he had set 
himself to think what was most impossible for anyone to conceive of 
bis doing, and then, waiting till the day agreed on came, he acted as 
he had determined. He took a tortoise and a lamb, and cutting them 
in pieces with his own hands, boiled them both together in a brass 
cauldron, covered over with a lid which was also of brass. Such then 
was the answer returned to Croesus from Delphi. . 

[When Croesus asked the oracle if he should wage war against 
King Cyrus of Persia, it answered that "if Croesus attacked the 
Persians, he would destroy a mighty empire." When he asked how 
long he would reign, the oracle replied that Croesus would reign 
until a mule was king of Persia. Encouraged by these words, Croe- 
sus began the war against Cyrus. Things went badly and Croesus 
was soon besieged in Sardis, his capital.] 

The following is the way in which Sardis was taken. On the four- 
teenth day of the siege Cyrus bade some horsemen ride about his 
lines and make proclamation to the whole army that he would give 
a reward to the man who should first mount the wall. After this he 
made an assault, but without success. His troops retired, but a cer- 
tain Hyreades resolved to approach the citadel and attempt it at a 
place where no guards were ever set. On this side the rock was so 
precipitous, and the citadel (as it seemed) so impregnable, that no 
fear was entertained of its being carried in this place. Here was the 
only portion of the circuit around which their old king Meles did 
not carry the lion which his leman bore to him. For when the Tel- 
messians had declared that if the lion were taken around the defenses, 
Sardis would be impregnable, and Meles, in consequence, carried it 
around the rest of Ae fortress where the citadel seemed open to at- 
tack, he scorned to take it around this side, which he looked on as a 
sheer precipice, and therefore absolutely secure. Hyreades, however, 
having the day before observed a Lydian soldier descend- the rock 
after a helmet that had rolled down from the top, and having seen him 
pick it up and carry it back, thought over what he had witnessed and 
formed his plan. He climbed the rock himself, and other Persians 
followed in his track, until a large number had mounted to the top. 
Thus was Sardis taken, and gtven up entirely to pillage. 

With respect to Croesus himself, this is what befell him at the tak- 
ing the town. He had a son, of whom I made mention above, a 


The History of Herodotus 

worthy youth, whose only defect was that he was deaf and dumb. In 
the days of his prosperity Croesus had done the utmost that he could 
for him, and among other plans which he had devised, had sent to 
Delphi to consult the oracle on his behalf. The answer which he had 
received from the Pythoness ran thus: 

Lydian, wide-ruling monarch, thou wondrous simple Croesus, 

Wish not ever to hear in thy palace the voice thou hast prayed for. 

Uttering intelligent sounds. Far better thy son should be silent! 

Ah! woe worth the day when thine ear shall first list to his accents. 

When the town was taken, one of the Persians was just going to 
kill Croesus, not knowing who he was. Croesus saw the man coming, 
but under the pressure of his affiction, did not care to avoid the blow, 
not minding whether or not he died beneath the stroke. Then this 
son of his, who was voiceless, beholding the Persian as he rushed 
toward Croesus, in the agony of his fear and grief burst into speech 
and said, “Man, do not kill Croesus.” This was the first time that he 
had ever spoken a word, but afterwards be retained the power of 
speech for the remainder of his life. 

Thus was Sardis taken by the Persians, and Croesus himself fell 
into their hands, after having reigned fourteen years, and been be- 
sieged in his capital fourteen days; thus too did Croesus fulfill the 
oracle, which said that he should destroy a mi^ty empire — ^by de- 
stroying his own. Then the Persians who had made Croesus prisoner 
brought him before Cyrus. Now a vast pile had been raised by his 
orders, and Croesus, laden with fetters, was placed upon it, and with 
him twice seven of the sons of the Lydians. I know not whether Cyrus 
was minded to make an offering of the first-fruits to some god or 
other, or whether he bad taken a vow and was performing it, or 
whether, as may well be, he had heard that Croesus was a holy man, 
and so wished to see if any of the heavenly powers would appear to 
save him from being burnt alive. However it might be, Cyrus was thus 
engaged, and Croesus was already on the pile, when it entered his 
mind in the depth of his woe that there was a divine warning in the 
words which had come to him from the lips of Solon, “No one while 
he lives is happy.” When this thought smote him, he fetched a long 
breath and, breaking his deep silence, groaned out aloud, thrice utter- 
ing the name of Solon. Cyrus caught the sounds and bade the inter- 
preters inquire of Croesus whom it was he called on. They drew near 
and asked him, but he held his peace, and for a long time made no 


Translated by George Rawlinson 
answer to their questionings, until at length, forced to say so me thin g, 
he exclaimed, “One I would give much to see converse with every 
monarch.” Not knowing what he meant by this reply, the interpreters 
begged him to explain himself; and as ^ey pressed for an ans wer 
and grew to be troublesome, he told them how, a long time before, 
Solon, an Athenian, had come and seen all his splendor, and made 
light of it; and how whatever he had said to him had fallen out exactly 
as he foreshowed, although it was nothing that esp9<^lly concerned 
him, but applied to all mankind alike, and most to those who seemed 
to themselves happy. 

Meanwhile, as he thus spoke, the pile was lighted, and the outer 
portion began to blaze. Then Cyrus, hearing from the interpreters 
what Croesus had said, relented, thinking that he too was a man, and 
that it was a fellow man, and one who had once been as blessed by 
fortune as himself, that he was burning alive; afraid, moreover, of 
retribution, and full of the thought that whatever is human is insecure. 
So he bade them quench the blazing fire as quickly as they could 
and take down Croesus and the other Lydians, which they tried to 
do, but the fiames were not to be mastered. 

Then the Lydians say that Croesus, perceiving by the efforts made 
to quench the fire that Cyrus had relented, and seeing also that all 
was in vain, and that the men could not get the fire under, called with 
a loud voice upon the god Apollo, and prayed him, if he had ever 
received at his hands any acceptable gift, to come to his aid and de- 
liver him from his present danger. As thus with tears he besought the 
god, suddenly, though up to that time the sky had been clear and the 
day without a breath of wind, dark clouds gathered, and the storm 
burst over their heads with rain of such violence that the flames were 
speedily extinguished. Cyrus, convinced by this that Croesus was a 
good Tnnn and a favorite of heaven, asked him after he was taken off 
the pile, “Who it was that had persuaded you to lead an army into 
my country, and so become my Joe rather than continue my friend?” 
To which Croesus made answer as follows: “What I did, CTking, was 
to thy advantage and to my own loss. If there be blame, it rests with 
die god of tte Greeks, who encouraged me to begin the war. No one 
is so foofish as to prefer war to peace, in which, instead of sons bury- 
ing their fathers, fathers bury their sons. But the gods willed it so.” 

Hius did Croesus speak. C^s then ordered his fetters to be taken 
off, and made him sit down near himself, and paid him much respect, 
ipnlfing upon him, as did also the courtiers, with a sort of wonder. 


The History of Herodotus 

Croesus, wrapped in thought, uttered no word. After a while, happen- 
ing to turn and perceive the Persian soldiers engaged in plundering 
the town, he said to Cyrus, “May I now tell thee, O king, what I have 
in my mind, or is silence best?” Cyrus bade him speak his mind 
boldly. Then he put this question: “^at is it, O Cyrus, which those 
men yonder are doing so busily?” “Plundering thy city,” Cyrus an- 
swered, “and carrying off thy riches.” “Not my city,” rejoined the 
other, “nor my riches. They are not, mine any more. It is thy wealth 
which they are pillaging.” 

Cyrus, struck by what Croesus had said, bade all the court to with- 
draw, and then asked Croesus what he thought it best for him to do 
as regarded the plundering. Croesus answered, “Now that the gods 
have made me thy slave, O Cyrus, it seems to me that it is my part, 
if I see anything to thy advantage, to show it to thee. Thy subjects, 
the Persians, are a poor people with a proud spirit. If then thou lettest 
them pillage and possess themselves of great wealth, I will tell thee 
what thou hast to expect at their hands. The man who gets the most, 
look to having him rebel against thee. Now then, if my words please 
thee, do thus, O king: let some of thy bodyguards be placed as 
sentinels at each of the city gates, and let them take their booty from 
the soldiers as they leave the town, and tell them that they do so 
because the tenths are due to Jupiter. So wilt thou escape the hatred 
they would feel if the plunder were taken away from them by force; 
and they, seeing that what is proposed is just, will do it willin^y.” 

Cyrus was beyond measure pleased with this advice, so excellent 
did it seem to him. He praised Croesus highly and gave orders to his 
bodyguard to do as he had suggested. Then, turning to Croesus, he 
said, “O Croesus, I see that thou art resolved both in speech and act 
to show thyself a virtuous prince: ask me, therefore, whatever thou 
wilt as a gift at this moment.” Croesus replied, “O my lord, if thou 
wilt suffer me to send these fetters to the god of the Greeks, whom 1 
once honored above all other gods, and ask him if it is his wont to 
deceive his benefactors — that will be the hig^st favor thou canst 
confer on me.” Cyrus upon this inquired what charge he had to make 
against the god. Then Croesus gave him a full account of all his 
projects and of the answm of the orade, and of the offering which 
he had sent, on which he dwelt especially, and told him how it was 
the encouragement givoa him by the oracle which had led him to 
make war upon Persia. All this he related, and at the end again be- 
sougjht permission to reproach the god with his behavior. Cyrus an- 


Translated by George Rawlinson 
swered with a laugh, “This I readily grant thee, and whatever else 
thou shalt at any time ask at my hands.” Croesus, finding his request 
allowed, sent certain Lydians to Delphi, enjoining them to lay his 
fetters upon the threshold of the temple, and ask the god, “If he 
were not ashamed of having encouraged him, as the destined de- 
stroyer of the empire of Cyrus, to begin a war with Persia, of which 
such were the first fruits?” As they said this, they were to point to 
the fetters; and further they were to inquire if it was die wont of the 
Greek gods to be ungrateful. 

The Lydians went to Delphi and delivered their message, on which 
the Pythoness is said to have replied: “It is not possible even for a 
god to escape the decree of destiny. Croesus has been punished for 
the sin of his fifth ancestor, who, when he was one of the bodyguard 
of the Heraclides, joined in a woman’s fraud and, slaying his master, 
wrongfully seized the throne. Apollo was anxious that the fall of 
Sardis should not happen in the lifetime of Croesus, but be delayed 
to his son’s days; he could not, however, persuade the Fates. All 
that they were willing to allow he took and gave to Croesus. Let 
Croesus know that Apollo delayed the taking of Sardis three full 
years, and that he is thus a prisoner three years later than was his 
^stiny. Moreover it was Apollo who saved him from the burning 
pile. Nor has Croesus any right to complain with respect to the 
oracular answer which he received. For when the god told him that, 
if he attacked the Persians, he would destroy a mighty empire, he 
ought, if he had been wise, to have sent again and inquired which 
empire was meant, that of Cyrus or his own; but if he neither under- 
stood what was said, nor took the trouble to seek for enlightenment, 
he has only himself to blame for the result. Besides, he had misunder- 
stood the last answer which had been given him about the mule. 
Cyrus was that mule. For the parents of Cyrus were of different 
races, and of different conditions — ^his mother a Median princess, 
daugfhter of King Astyages, and his father a Persian and a subject, 
who, though so far beneath her in all respects, had married his royal 

Such was the answer of the Pythoness. The Lydians returned to 
Sardis and communicated it to Croesus, who confessed, on hearing 
it, that the fault was his, not the god’s. Such was the way in which 
Lydia was first conquered, and so was the empire of Croesus brought 
to a dose. 


The History of Herodotus 

[Herodotus tells how, though Cyrus was the son of the Persian 
kin^s daughter, he was ordered to be exposed on a mountain 
shortly after his birth. A shepherd rescued him and reared him 
until he was old enough to claim his birthright. After Cyrus had 
subdued Lydia, he captured the wealthy and powerful city of 
Babylon. But his dreams of an immense empire were ended when 
he was slain in battle with the Massagetae, a tribe living on the 
plains east of the Caspian Sea.] 


O N THE DEATH OF CYRUS, Cambyscs, his son by Cassandane, took 
the kingdom. Cassandane had died in the lifetime of Cyrus, 
who had made a great mourning for her at her death, and had com- 
manded all the subjects of his empire to observe the like. Cambyses, 
the son of this lady and of Cyrus, regarding the Ionian and Aeolian 
Greeks as vassals of his father, took them with him in his expedition 
against Egypt * among the other nations which owned his sway. 

Now the Egyptians, before the reign of their king Psammetichus, 
believed themselves to be the most ancient of mankind. Since Psam- 
metichus, however, made an attempt to discover who were actually 
the primitive race, they have been of the opinion that, while they 
surpass all other nations, the Phrygians surpass them in antiquity. 
This king, finding it impossible to make out by dint of inquiry what 
men were the most ancient, contrived the following method of dis- 
covery. He took two children of the common sort, and gave them 
over to a herdsman to bring up at his folds, strictly charging him to 
let no one utter a word in their presence, but to keep them in a 
sequestered cottage, and from time to time introduce goats to their 
apartment, see that they got their fill of milk, and in all other respects 
look after them. His object herein was to know, after the indistinct 
babblings of infancy were over, what word they would first articulate. 
It happened as he had anticipated. The herdsman obeyed his orders 
for two years, and at the end of that time, on his one day opening 
the door of their room and going in, the children both ran up to 
him with outstretched arms, and distinctly said becos. When this first 
* About 525 B.C. 


Translated by George Rawlinson 
nothing in common with the Egyptians, neither inhabiting the Delta 
nor using the Egyptian tongue, they claimed to be allowed to eat 
whatever they pleased. Their request, however, was refused by the 
god, who declared in reply that Egypt was the entire tract of country 
which the Nile overspread and irrigates, and the Egyptians were the 
people who lived below Elephantine, and drank the waters of that 

So said the oracle. Now the Nile, when it overflows', floods not only 
the Delta, but also the tracts of country on both sides of the stream 
which are diought to belong to Libya and Arabia, in some places 
reaching to the extent of two days’ journey from its banks, in some 
even exceeding that distance, but in others falling short of it. 

Concerning the nature of the river, I was not able to gmn any 
information either from the priests or from others. I was particularly 
anxious to learn from them why the Nile, at the commencement of 
the summer solstice, begins to rise, and continues to increase for a 
hundred days — and why, as soon as that number is past, it forthwith 
retires and contracts its stream, continuing low during the whole of 
the winter until the summer solstice comes around again. On none 
of these points could 1 obtain any explanation from de inhabitants, 
though I made every inquiry, wishing to know what was commonly 
reported; they could neither tell me what special virtue the Nile has 
which makes it so opposite in its nature to all other streams, nor 
why, unlike every other river, it gives forth no breezes from its surface. 

Some of the Greeks, however, wishing to get a reputation for 
cleverness, have offered explanations of the phenomena of the river, 
for which they have accounted in three different ways. Two of these 
I do not think it worthwhile to speak of, further than simply to men- 
tion what they are. One pretends that the northwestern winds cause 
the rise of the river by preventing the Nile water from running off 
into the sea. But in the first place it has often happened, when the 
northwestern winds did not blow, that the Nile has ris^ according 
to its usual wont; and further, if the northwestern winds produced 
the effect, the other rivers which flow in a direction opposite to those 
winds ought to present the same phenomena as the Nile, and the 
more so as they are all smaller streams, and have a weaker current. 
But these rivers, of which there are many both in Syria and Libya, 
are entirely unlike the Nile in this respect. 

The second opinion is even more unscientific than the one just 
mentioned, and also, if I may so say, more marvelous. It is that the 


The History of Herodotus 

Nile acts so strangely because it flows from the ocean, and that the 
ocean flows all around the earth. 

The third explanation, which is very much more plausible than 
either of the others, is positively the furthest from the truth; for there 
is really nothing in what it says, any more than in the other theories. 
It is that the inundation of the Nile is caused by the melting of snows. 
Now, as the Nile flows out of Libya, through Ethiopia, into Egypt, 
how is it possible that it can be formed of melted snow, r unnin g , as 
it does, from the hottest re^ons of the world into cooler countries? 
Many are the proofs whereby anyone capable of reasoning on the 
subject may be convinced that it is most unlikely this should be the 
case. The first and strongest argument is furnished by the winds, 
which always blow hot from these regions. The second is that rain 
and frost are unknown there. Now whenever snow falls, it must of 
necessity rain within five days; so that, if there were snow, there 
must be rain also in those parts. Thirdly, it is certain that the natives 
of the country are black with the heat, that the kites and the swallows 
remain there the whole year, and that the cranes, when they fly from 
the rigors of a Scythian winter, flock there to pass the cold season. If 
then, in the country whence the Nile has its source, or in that through 
which it flows, there fell ever so little snow, it is absolutely impossible 
that any of these circumstances could take place. 

As for the writer * who attributes the phenomenon to the ocean, 
his account is involved in such obscurity that it is impossible to dis- 
prove it by argument. For my part I know of no river called Ocean, 
and I think that Homer, or one of the earlier poets, invented the 
name and introduced it into his poetry. 

Perhaps, after censuring all the opinions that have been put for- 
ward on tMs obscure subject, one ought to propose some theory of 
one’s own. I will therefore proceed to explain what I think to be the 
reason of the Nile’s swelling in the summertime. During the winter, 
the sun is driven out of his usual course by the storms, and removes 
to the upper parts of Libya. This is the whole secret in the fewest 
possible words; for it stands to reason that the country to which the 
Sun god approaches the nearest, and which he passes most directly 
over, will be scantest of water, and that there the streams which feed 
the rivers will shrink the most. 

To explain, however, more at length, the case is this. The sun, 
in his passage across the upper parts of Libya, affects them in the 


Translated by George Rawlinson 
following way. As the air in those regions is constantly dear, and 
the country warm through the absence of cold winds, the sun in his 
passage across them acts upon them exactly as he is wont to act 
elsewhere in summer, when his path is in the middle of heaven — ^that 
is, he attracts the water. After attracting it, he again repels it into 
the upper regions, where the winds lay hold of it, scatter it, and 
reduce it to a vapor, whence it naturally enough comes to pass that 
the winds which blow from this quarter — ^the south *and southwest — 
are of all winds the most rainy. And my own opinion is that the sun 
does not get rid of all the water which he draws year by year from 
the Nile, but retains some about him. When the winter begins to 
soften, the sun goes back again to his old place in the middle of the 
heaven and proceeds to attract water equally from all countries. 
Till then the other rivers run big, from the quantity of rain water 
which they bring down from countries where so much moisture falls 
that all the land is cut into guUies; but in summer, when the showers 
fail, and the sun attracts their water, they become low. The Nile, on 
the contrary, not deriving any of its bulk from rains, and being in 
winter subject to the attraction of the sun, naturally runs at that 
season, unlike all other streams, with a less burden of water than in 
the summertime. For in summer it is exposed to attraction equally 
with all other rivers, but in winter it suffers alone. The sun, therefore, 
I regard as the sole cause of the phenomenon. 

With regard to the sources of the Nile, I have found no one among 
all those with whom 1 have conversed, whether Egyptians, Libyans 
or Greeks, who professed to have any knowledge, except a single 
person. He was the scribe who kept the register of the sacred treas- 
ures of Minerva in the city of Sais, and he did not seem to me to be 
in earnest when he said t^t he knew them perfectly well. His story 
was as follows: “Between Syene, a city of the Thebais and Elephan- 
tine, diere are two hills with sharp conical tops; the name of the one 
is Crophi, of the other, Mophi. Midway between them are the foun- 
tains of the Nile, fountains which it is impossible to fathom. Half 
the water runs northward into Egypt, half to the south towards 
Ethiopia.” The fountains were known to be unfathomable, he de- 
clared, because Psammetichus, an Egyptian king, had made trial of 
them. He had caused a rope to be made, many thousand fathoms in 
loigth, and had sounded the fountain with it, but could find no 
bottom. By this the scribe gave me to understand, if there was any 
truth at all in what he said, that in this fountain there arq certain 


The History of Herodotus 

strong eddies, and a regurgitation, owing to the force wherewith the 
water dashes against the mountains, and hence a sounding line can- 
not be got to reach the bottom of the spring. 

Of the sources of the Nile no one can give any account, since 
Libya, the country through which it passes, is desert and without 
inhabitants. As far as it was possible to get information by inquiry, 

I have given a description of the stream. It enters Egypt from the 
parts beyond. My opinion is that the Nile, as it traverses the whole 
of Africa, is of equal length with the Danube. And here I take my 
leave of this subject. 

Concerning Egypt itself 1 shall extend my remarks to a great 
length, because there is no country that possesses so many wonders, 
nor any that has such a number of works which defy description. 
Not oidy is the climate different from that of the rest of the world, 
and the rivers unlike any other rivers, but the people also, in most of 
their manners and customs, exactly reverse the common practice of 
mankind. The women attend the markets and trade, while the men 
sit at home at the loom; and here, while the rest of the world works 
the woof up the warp, the Egyptians work it down; the women like- 
wise carry burdens upon their shoulders, whUe the men carry them 
upon their heads. They eat their food out of doors in the streets,* 
but retire for private purposes to their houses, giving as a reason 
that what is unseemly, but necessary, ought to be done in secret, 
but what has nothing imseemly about it, should be done openly. A 
woman cannot serve the priestly office,* either for god or goddess, 
but men are priests to both; sons need not support their parents 
unless they choose, but daughters must, whether they choose or not. 

In other countries the priests have long hair; in Egypt their heads 
are shaven; elsewhere it is customary, in mourning, for near relations 
to cut their hair close; the Egyptians, who wear no hair at any other 
time, when they lose a relative, let their beards and the hair of their 
heads grow long. All other men pass their lives separate from animals; 
the Egyptians have animals always living with them *; others make 
barley and wheat their food; it is a disgrace to do so in Egypt,* where 
the ^ain they live on is spelt, which some call zea. Doug^ ffiey knead 
with their feet; but they mix mud, and even take up dirt, with their 
hands. They are the only people in the world — ^they at least, and 
such as have learned the practice from them — ^who use circiuncision. 
Their men wear two garments apiece, their women but one. They 
* Contradiction of fact 


Translated by George Rawlinson 
put on the rings and fasten the ropes to sails inside; others put them 
outside. When they write or calculate, instead of going, like the 
Greeks, from left to right, they move their hand from right to left; 
and they insist, notwithstanding, that it is they who go to the right, 
and the Greeks who go to the left. They have two quite different 
kinds of writing, one of which is called sacred, the oAer common. 

They are religious to excess, far beyond any other race of men, 
and use the following ceremonies. They drink out of bronze cups, 
which they scour every day; there is no exception to this practice. 
They wear linen garments, which they are specially careful to have 
always freshly washed. They practice circumcision for the sake of 
cleanliness, considering it better to be cleanly than comely. The priests 
shave their whole bodies every other day, that no lice or other im- 
pure thing may adhere to them when they are engaged in the service 
of the gods. Their dress is entirely of linen, and their shoes of the 
papyrus plant; it is not lawful for them to wear either dress or shoes 
of any o^er material. They bathe twice every day in cold water and 
twice each night; besides which they observe, so to speak, thousands 
of ceremonies. They enjoy, however, not a few advantages. They 
consume none of their own property, and are at no expense for any- 
thing; but every day bread is baked for them of the sacred com, and 
a plentiful supply of beef and of goose’s flesh is assigned to each, 
and also a portion of wine made from the grape. Fish they are not 
allowed to eat; and beans — ^which none of the Egyptians ever sow, 
or eat, if they come up of their own accord, either raw or boiled — 
the priests will not even endure to look on, since they consider it an 
unclean kind of pulse. Instead of a single priest, each god has the 
attendance of a college, at the head of which is a chief priest; when 
one of these dies, his son is appointed in his room. 

Male cattle are reckoned to belong to Apis,* and are tested in 
the following manner. One of the priests appointed for the purpose 
searches to see if there is a single black hair on the whole body, 
since in that case the beast is unclean. He examines him all over, 
standing on his legs, and again laid upon his back; after which he 
takes the tongue out of his mouth, to see if it be dean in respect to 
the prescribed marks; he also inspects the hairs of the tail, to observe 
if they grow naturally. If the animal is pronounced clean in all these 
various points, the priest marks him by twisting a piece of papyms 
around his horns, and attaching thereto some sealing clay, which he 
* Image of the soul of Osiris, often depicted as a man with a bull’s, head 


The History of Herodotus 

then stamps with his own signet ring. After this the beast is led away; 
and it is forbidden, under the penalty of death, to sacrifice an animal 
which has not been marked in this way. 

The following is their manner of sacrifice. They lead the victim, 
marked with their signet, to the altar where they are about to offer 
it, and setting the wood ali^t, pour a libation of wine upon the altar 
in front of the victim, and at the same time invoke the god. Then 
they slay the animal, and cutting off his head, proceed to flay the 
body. Next they take the head, and heaping imprecations on it, if 
there are a market place and a body of Greek traders in the city, 
they carry it there and sell it instantly; if, however, there are no 
Greeks among them, they throw the head into the river. The impre- 
cation is to this effect: they pray that if any evil is impending either 
over those who sacrifice or over universal Egypt, it may be made 
to fall upon that head. These practices, the imprecations upon the 
heads and the libations of wine, prevail all over Egypt and extend 
to victims of all sorts; and hence the Egyptians will never eat the 
head of any animal. 

The disemboweling and burning are, however, different in different 
sacrifices. I will mention the mode in use with respect to the goddess 
whom they regard as the greatest, and honor with the chief festival. 
When they have flayed their steer, they pray, and when their prayer 
is ended they take the paunch of the animal out entire, leaving the 
intestines and the fat inside the body; they then cut off the legs, the 
ends of the loins, the shoulders and the neck; and having done so, 
they fill the body of the steer with clean bread, honey, raisins, figs, 
frankincense, myrrh and other aromatics. Thus filled, they bum the 
body, pouring over it great quantities of oil. Before offering the 
sacrifice, they fast, and while the bodies of the victims are being 
consumed they beat themselves. Afterwards, when they have con- 
cluded this part of the ceremony, they have the other parts of the 
victim served up to them for a repast. 

The male cattle, therefore, if clean, and the male calves are used 
for sacrifice by the Egyptians universally; but the females they are 
not allowed to sacrifice, since they are sacred to Isis. The statue of 
this goddess has the form of a woman but with horns like a cow, 
resembling thus the Greek representations of lo; and the Egyptians, 
one and all, venerate cows much more higjhly than any other animal. 
This is the reason why no native of Egypt, whether man or woman, 
will ^ve a Greek a kiss, or use the knife of a Greek or his spit or his 

Translated by George Rawlinson 
cauldron, or taste the flesh of an ox, known to be pure, if it has 
been cut with a Greek knife. When cattle die, the following is the 
manner of their sepulture: the females are thrown into the river; 
the males are buried in the suburbs of the towns, with one or both 
of their horns appearing above the surface of the groimd to mark 
the place. When the bodies are decayed, a boat comes, at an ap- 
pointed time, from the island called Prosopitis — ^which is a portion 
of the Delta — and calls at the several cities ihium to collect the 
bones of the oxen. Prosopitis is a district containing several cities; 
the name of that from which the boats come is Aphroditopolis. 
Aphrodite has a temple there of much sanctity. Great numbers of 
men go forth from this city and proceed to the other towns, where 
they dig up the bones, which they take away with them and bury 
together in one place. The same practice prevails with respect to 
the interment of all other cattle — the law so determining; they do 
not slaughter any of them. 

Such E^tians as possess a temple of the Theban Jove or live 
near Thebes offer no sheep in sacrifice, but only goats; for the 
Egyptians do not all worship the same gods, excepting Isis and 
Osiris, the latter of whom they say is the Grecian Dionysus. Those, 
on the contrary, who possess a temple dedicated to Mendes * abstain 
from offering goats, and sacrifice sheep instead. The Thebans, and 
such as imitate them in their practice, give the following account of 
the origin of the custom. “Hercules,” they say, “wished of all things 
to see Jove, but Jove did not choose to be seen by him. At length, 
when Hercules persisted, Jove hit on a device — ^to flay a ram and, 
cutting off his head, hold the head before him and cover himself 
with the fleece. In this guise he showed himself to Hercules.” There- 
fore the Egyptians give their statues of Jupiter die face of a ram; 
and from them the practice has passed to the Ammonians, who are 
a joint colony of Egyptians and Ethiopians, speaking a language 
between the two; hence also, in my opinion, the latter people took 
their name of Ammonians, since ^ Egyptian name for Jupiter is 
Amun. Such, then, is the reason why the Thebans do not sacrifice 
rams, but consider them sacred animals. Upon one day in the year, 
however, at the festival of Jupiter, they slay a single ram, and strip- 
ping off the fleece, cover with it the statue of that god, as he once 
covered himself, and then bring up to the statue of Jove an image of 
Hercules. When this has been (kme, the whole assembly beat their 
* Coirespcmds to the Oredc god Pan 


The History of Herodotus 

breasts in mourning for the ram, and afterwards bury him in a holy 

The account which I received of this Hercules makes him one of 
the twelve gods. Of the other Hercules, with whom the Greeks are 
familiar, I could hear nothing in any part of Egypt. That the Greeks, 
however (those I mean who gave the son of Amphitryon that name), 
took the name from the Egyptians, and not the Egyptians from the 
Greeks, is, I think, clearly proved, among other arguments, by the 
fact that both the parents of Hercules, Amphitryon as well as Alc- 
mena, were of Egyptian origin. Again, the Egyptians disclaim all 
knowledge of the names of Neptune and the Dioscuri, and do not 
include them in the number of their gods; but had they adopted the 
name of any god from the Greeks, these would have been the likeliest 
to obtain notice, since the Egyptians, as I am well convinced, prac- 
ticed navigation at that time, and the Greeks also were some of them 
mariners, so that they would have been more likely to know the 
names of these gods than that of Hercules. But the Egyptian Hercules 
is one of their ancient gods. Seventeen thousand years before the 
reign of Amasis, the twelve gods were, they affirm, produced from 
the eight; and of these twelve, Hercules is one. 

In the wish to get the best information that I could on these mat- 
ters, I made a voyage to Tyre in Phoenicia, hearing there was a 
temple of Hercules at that place, very highly venerated. 1 visited the 
temple and found it richly adorned with a number of offerings, 
among which were two pillars, one of pure gold, the other of emerald, 
shining with great brilliancy at night. In a conversation which I held 
with the priests, I inquired how long their temple had been built, and 
found by their answer that they too differed from the Greeks. They 
said that the temple was built at the same time that the city was 
founded, and that the foundation of the city took place two thou- 
sand three hundred years ago. In Tyre I remarked another temple 
where the same god was worshiped as the Thasian Hercules. So I 
went on to Thasos, where I found a temple of Hercules which had 
been built by the Phoenicians who colonized that island when they 
sailed in search of Europa. Evra this was five generations earlier than 
the time when Hercules, son of Amphitryon, was bom in Greece. 
These researches ^w plainly that there is an ancient god Hercules; 
and my own opinion is that those Greeks act most wisely who build 
and maintain two temples of Hercules, in the one of which the Her- 
cules worshiped is known by the name of Olympian, and has saoifice 


Translated by George Rawlinson 

offered to him as an immortal, while in the other the honors paid 
are such as are due to a hero. 

The Greeks tell many tales without due investigation, and among 
them the following silly fable respecting Hercules. “Hercules,” they 
say, “went once to Egypt, and there the inhabitants took him, and 
putting a chaplet on his head, led him out in solemn procession, in- 
tending to offer him as a sacrifice to Jupiter. For a while he sub- 
mitted quietly; but when they led him up to the hltar and began the 
ceremonies, he put forth his strength and slew them all.” Now to me 
it seems that such a story proves the Greeks to be utterly ignorant 
of the character and customs of the people. The Egyptians do not 
think it allowable even to sacrifice cattle, excepting sheep and the 
male kine and calves, provided they be pure, and also geese. How 
then can it be believed that they would sacrifice men? And again, 
how would it have been possible for Hercules alone and, as they 
confess, a mere mortal, to destroy so many thousands? In saying 
this much concerning these matters, may I incur no displeasure either 
of god or hero! 

I mentioned above that some of the Egyptians abstain from sacri- 
ficing goats, either male or female. The reason is the following. These 
Egyptians, who are the Mendesians, consider Pan to be one of the 
eight gods who existed before the twelve, and Pan is represented in 
Egypt by the painters and the sculptors, just as he is in Greece, with 
the face and legs of a goat. They do not, however, believe this to be 
his shape, or consider him in any respect unlike the other gods; 
but they represent him thus for a reason which I prefer not to relate. 
The Mendesians hold all goats in veneration, but the male more than 
the female, giving the goatherds of the males special honor. One is 
venerated more Ughly than all the rest, and when he dies, there is 
a great mourning throughout all the Mendesian canton. In Egyptian, 
the goat mid Pan are both called Mendes. 

Hie pig is regarded among them as an unclean animal, so much 
so that if a man in passing accidentally touches a pig, he instantly 
hurries to the river and plunges in with all his clothes on. Hence 
too the swineherds, notwithstanding that they are of pure Egyptian 
blood, are forbidden to enter into any of the temples, which are open 
to all other Egyptians; and further, no one will give his daughter in 
marriage to a swineherd or take a wife from among them, so that 
the swineherds are forced to intermarry among themselves. They do 
not offer swine in sacrifice to any of their gods, excepting Bacchus and 


The History of Herodotus 

the Moon, whom they honor in this way at the same time, sacrificing 
pigs to both of them at the same full moon, and afterwards eating 
the flesh. There is a reason alleged by them for their detestation of 
swine at all other seasons, and their use of them at this festival, with 
which I am well acquainted, but which I do not think it proper to 
mention. The following is the mode in which they sacrifice the swine 
to the Moon. As soon as the victim is slain, the tip of the tail, the 
spleen and the caul are put together, and having been covered with 
all the fat that has been found in the animal’s belly, are straightway 
burned. The remainder of the flesh is eaten on the same day that the 
sacrifice is offered, which is the day of the full moon; at any other 
time they would not so much as taste it. The poorer sort, who cannot 
afford live pigs, form pigs of dough, which they bake and offer in 

To Bacchus, on the eve of his feast, every Egyptian sacrifices a 
hog before the door of his house, which is then given back to the 
swineherd by whom it was furnished, and by him carried away. In 
other respects the festival is celebrated almost exactly as Bacchic 
festivals are in Greece, excepting that the Egyptians have no choral 
dances. They also use, instead of phalli, another invention, consisting 
of images a cubit high, pulled by strings, which the women carry 
around to the villages. A piper goes in front, and the women follow, 
singing hymns in honor of Bacchus. They gjve a religious reason for 
the peculiarities of the image. 

Melampus cannot, I think, have been ignorant of this ceremony — 
nay, he must, I should conceive, have been well acquainted with it. 
He it was who introduced into Greece the name of Bacchus, the 
ceremonial of his worship, and the procession of the phallus. He did 
not, however, so completely apprehend the whole doctrine as to be 
able to communicate it entirely, but various sages since his time 
have carried out his teaching to greater perfection. Still it is certain 
that Melampus introduced the phallus, and that the Greeks learned 
from him the ceremonies which they now practice. I therefore main- 
tain that Melampus, who was a wise man and had acquired the art 
of divination, having become acquainted with the worship of Bacchus 
through knowledge derived from Egypt, introduced it into Greece, 
with a few sli^t changes at the same time that he brought in various 
other practices. For I can by no means allow that it is by mere co- 
incidence that the Bacchic ceremonies in Greece are so nearly the 
same as the Egyptian — ^they would then have been more Greek in 


Translated by George Rawlinson 

their character, and less recent in their origin. Much less CM I udniit 
that the Egyptians borrowed these customs, or any other, from the 

Almost all the names of the gods came into Greece from Egypt. 
My inquiries prove that they were all derived from a foreign source, 
and my opinion is that Egypt furnished the greater number. For with 
the exception of Neptune and the Dioscuri, whom I mentioned above, 
and Juno, Vesta, Themis, the Graces and the N»elds, the other gods 
have been known from time immemorial in Egypt. This I assert on 
the authority of the Egyptians themselves, '^e gods, with whose 
names they profess themselves unacquainted, the Greeks received, I 
believe, from the Pelasgi,* except Neptune. Of him they got their 
knowledge from the Libyans, by whom he has been always honored, 
and who were anciently the only people that had a god of the name. 
The Egyptians differ from the Greeks also in paying no divine honors 
to heroes. 

Besides these which have been here mentioned, there are many 
other practices whereof I shall speak hereafter, which the Greeks 
have borrowed from Egypt. The peculiarity, however, which they 
observe in their statues of Mercury they did not derive from the 
Egyptians, but from the Pelasgi; from them the Athenians first 
adopted it, and afterwards it passed from the Athenians to the other 
Greeks. For just at the time when the Athenians were entering into 
the Greek body, the Pelasgi came to live with them in their country, 
whence it was that the latter came first to be regarded as Greeks. The 
Athenians, then, who were the first of all the Greeks to make their 
statues of Mercury in this way, learned the practice from the Pelas- 
gians; and by this people a religious account of the matter is given. 

In early times the Pelasgi, as I know by information which I got 
at Dodona, offered sacrifices of all kinds, and prayed to the gods, 
but had no distinct names or appellations for them, since they had 
never heard of any. They called their gods disposers, t because they 
had disposed and arranged all things in such a beautiful order. After 
a long lapse of time the names of the gods came to Greece from 
Egypt, and the Pelasgi learned them, only as yet they knew nothing 
of Bacchus, of whom they first heard at a much later date. Not long 
after the arrival of the names, they sent to consult the oracle at 

* Primitive inhabitants of Greece 

t The Greek word “god" resembles the verb “to dispose,” but the exact dcdva- 
tion is uiduiown. „ 


The History of Herodotus 

Dodona about them. This is the most ancient orade in Greece, and 
at that time there was no other. To their question, whether they 
should adopt the names that had been imported from the foreigners, 
the oracle replied by recommending their use. Thenceforth in their 
sacrifices the Pelasgi made use of the names of the gods, and from 
them the names passed afterward to the Greeks. 

Whence the gods severally sprang, whether or not they had all 
existed from eternity, what forms they bore — ^these are questions of 
which the Greeks knew nothing until the other day, so to speak. For 
Homer and Hesiod were the first to compose theogonies, and give 
the gods their epithets, to allot them their several offices and occupa- 
tions, and describe their forms; and they lived but four hundred 
years before my time,* as I believe. As for the poets who are thought 
by some to be earlier than these, they are, in my judgment, decidedly 
later writers. In these matters I have the authority of the priestesses 
of Dodona for the former portion of my statements; what I have said 
of Homer and Hesiod is my own opinion. 

The following tale is commonly told in Egypt concerning the oracle 
of Dodona in Greece, and that of Ammon in Libya. My informants 
on the point were the priests of Jupiter at Thebes. They said that 
two of the sacred women were once carried off from Thebes by the 
Phoenicians, and that the story went that one of them was sold into 
Libya, and the other into Greece, and these women were the first 
founders of the oracles in the two countries. On my inquiring how 
they came to know so exactly what became of the women, they 
answered that diligent search had been made after them at the time, 
but that it had not been found possible to discover where they were; 
afterwards, however, they received the information which they had 
given me. 

This was what I heard from the priests at Thebes; at Dodona, 
however, the women who deliver the oracles relate the matter as 
follows. Two black doves flew away from Egyptian Thebes, and 
while one directed its flight to Libya, the other came to them. She 
alighted on an oak, and sitting there began to speak with a human 
voice, and told them that on the spot where she was, there should 
thenceforth be an oracle of Jove. They understood the aimouncement 
to be from heaven, so th^ set to work at once and erected the 
shrine. The dove which flew to Libya bade the Libyans to establish 
there the oracle of Ammon. Hiis likewise is an oracle of Jupiter. 
* Placing them about 880-830 b.c.; an early estimate 


Translated by George Rawlinson 
The persons from whom I received these particulars were three 
priestesses of the Dodoneans — ^what they said was confirmed by the 
other Dodoneans who dwell around the temple. 

hjy own opinion of these matters is as follows. I think that if it be 
true that the Phoenicians carried off the holy women and sold them 
for slaves, the one into Libya and the other into Greece (or Pelasgia 
as it was then called), this last must have been sold to the Thes- 
protians. Afterwards, while undergoing servitude Jn those parts, she 
built under a real oak a temple to Jupiter, her thoughts in her new 
abode reverting — as it was likely they would do, if she had been an 
attendant in a temple of Jupiter at Thebes — to that particular god. 
Then, having acquired a knowledge of the Greek tongue, she set up 
an oracle. She also mentioned that her sister had been sold for a 
slave into Libya by the same persons as herself. 

The Dodoneans called the women doves because they were foreign- 
ers, and seemed to them to make a noise like birds. After a while the 
dove spoke with a human voice, because the woman, whose foreign 
talk had previously sounded to them like the chattering of a bird, 
acquired the power of speaking what they could understand. For 
how can it be conceived possible that a dove should really speak with 
the voice of a man? LasUy, by calling the dove black the Dodoneans 
indicated that the woman was an Egyptian. And certainly the char- 
acter of the oracles at Thebes and Dodona is very similar. Besides 
this form of divination, the Greeks learned also divination by means 
of victims from the Egyptians. 

The Egyptians were also the first to introduce solemn assemblies, 
processions and litanies to the gods; all of which the Greeks were 
taug)it the use by them. It seems to me a sufficient proof of this, that 
in Egypt these practices have been established from remote antiquity, 
while in Greece they are only recently known. 

The Egyptians do not hold a single solemn assembly, but several 
in the course of the year. Of these the chief, which is better attended 
than any other, is held at the city of Bubastis in honor of Diana. The 
next in importance is that which takes place at Busiris, a city situated 
in the very middle of the Delta; it is in honor of Isis, who is called in 
the Greek tongue Demeter (Ceres). There is a third great festival in 
Sais to Minerva, a fotirth in Heliopolis to the Sun, a fifth in Buto 
to Latona, and a sixth in Papremis to Mars. 

The following are the proceedings on occasion of the assembly at 
Bubastis. Men and women come sailing all together, vast numbers 


The History of Herodotus 

in each boat, many of the women with castanets which they strike, 
while some of the men pipe during the whole time of the voyage; 
the remainder of the voyagers, male and female, sing the while, and 
make a clapping with their hands. When they arrive opposite any of 
the towns upon the banks of the stream, they approach the shore 
and, while some of the women continue to play and sing, others call 
aloud to the females of the place and load them with abuse, while a 
certain number dance and some standing up uncover themselves. 
After proceeding in this way all along the river course, they reach 
Bubastis, where they celebrate the feast with abundant sacrifices. 
More grape wine is consumed at this festival than in all the rest of 
the year besides. The number of those who attend, counting only 
the men and women and omitting the children, amounts, according 
to the native reports, to seven hundred thousand. 

At the feast of Isis in the city of Busiris, the whole multitude, both 
of men and women, many thousands in number, beat themselves at 
the close of the sacrifice, in honor of a god whose name a religious 
scruple forbids me to mention.* The Syrian dwellers in Egypt proceed 
on ^is occasion to still greater lengths, even cutting their faces with 
their knives, whereby they let it be seen that they are not Egyptians 
but foreigners. 

At Sals, when the assembly takes place for the sacrifices, there 
is one night on which the inhabitants all bum a multitude of li^ts 
in the open air around their houses. They use lamps in the shape of 
flat saucers filled with a mixture of oil and salt, on the top of which 
the wick floats. These bum the whole night and give to the festival 
the name of the Feast of Lamps. The Egyptians who are absent from 
the festival observe the mg^t of the sacrifice no less than the rest by 
a general lighting of lamps; so that the illumination is not confined 
to the city of Sais, but extends over the whole of Egypt. And there 
is a religious reason assigned for the special honor paid to this night, 
as well as for the illumination which accompanies it. 

At Heliopolis and Buto the assemblies are merely for the purpose 
of sacrifice; but at Papremis, besides the sacrifices and other rites 
which are performed there as elsewhere, the following custom is 
observed. When the sun is getting low, a few only of the priests con- 
tinue occupied about the image of the god, while the greater number, 
turned with wooden dubs, take their station at the portal of the 
temple. Opposite them is drawn up a body of men, in number above 

Translated by George Rawlinson 
a thousand, armed like the others with clubs, consisting of persons 
engaged in the performance of their vows. The image of the god, 
which is kept in a small wooden shrine covered with plates of gold, 
is conveyed from the temple into a second sacred building the day 
before the festival begins. The few priests still in attendance upon 
the image place it, together with the shrine containing it, on a four- 
wheeled car, and begin to drag it along; the others, stationed at the 
gateway of the temple, oppose its admission. Then the votaries come 
forward to espouse the quarrel of the god and set upon the opponents, 
who are sure to offer resistance. A sharp fight with clubs ensues, in 
which heads are commonly broken on both sides. Many, I am con- 
vinced, die of the wounds that they receive, though the Egyptians 
insist that no one is ever killed. 

The natives give the subjoined account of this festival. They say 
that the mother of the god of Mars once dwelt in the temple. Brought 
up at a distance from his parent, when he grew to man’s estate he 
conceived a wish to visit her. Accordingly he came, but the attendants, 
who had never seen him before, refused him entrance and succeeded 
in keeping him out. So he went to another city and collected a body 
of men, with whose aid he handled the attendants very roughly and 
forced his way in to his mother. Hence they say arose the custom of 
a fig^t with sticks in honor of Mars at this festival. 

The Egyptians first made it a point of religion to have no con- 
verse with women in the sacred places, and not to enter them without 
washing, after sudi converse. Almost all other nations except the 
Greeks and the Egyptians act differently regarding man in this matter 
under no other law than the brutes. Many animals, they say, and 
various kinds of birds may be seen to couple in the temples and the 
sacred precincts, which would certainly not happen if the gods were 
displeased at it. Such are the arguments by which they defend their 
{Mractice, but I nevertheless can by no means approve of it. In these 
points the E^tians are speciaUy careful, as they, ate indeed in 
everything which concerns their sacred edifices. 

E^pt, though it borders upon Libya, is not a region abounding in 
wild animals. The animals that do exist in the country, whether 
domesticat»l or otherwise, are all regarded as sacred. If 1 were to 
explain why they are consecrated to the several gods, I should be 
ted to speak of religious matters, which I particularly shrink from 
mentioning; the points whereon I have touched sligjhdy Mdierto have 
all beiV introduced from sheer necessity. Their custom with respect 

The History of Herodotus 

to animals is as follows. For every kind there are appointed certain 
guardians, some male, some female, whose business it is to look after 
them; and this honor is made to descend from father to son. The 
inhabitants of the various cities, when they have made a vow to any 
god, pay it to his animals in the way which I wiU now explain. At 
the time of making the vow they shave the head of the child, cutting 
off all the hair, or else half, or sometimes a third part, which they 
then weigh in a balance against a sum of silver; and whatever sum 
the hair weighs is presented to the guardian of the animals, who 
thereupon cuts up some fish and gives it to them for food — such being 
the stuff whereon they are fed. When a man has killed one of the 
sacred animals, if he did it with malice aforethought, he is punished 
with death; if unwittingly, he has to pay such a fine as the priests 
choose to impose. When an ibis, however, or a hawk is killed, whether 
it was done by accident or on purpose, the man must die. 

The number of domestic animals in Egypt is very great, and would 
be still greater were it not for what befalls the cats. As the females, 
when they have kittened, no longer seek the company of the males, 
these last, to obtain once more their companionship, practice a 
curious artifice. They seize the kittens, carry Aem off and kill them, 
but do not eat them afterwards. Upon this the females, being de- 
prived of their young and longing to supply their place, seek the 
males once more, since they are particularly fond of their offspring. 
On every occasion of a fire in Egypt the strangest prodigy occurs 
with the cats. The inhabitants allow the fire to rage as it pleases, 
while they stand about at intervals and watch these animals, which, 
slipping hy the men or else leaping over them, rush headlong into 
the flames. When this happens, the Egyptians are in deep affliction. 
If a cat dies in a private house by a natural death, all the inmates of 
the house shave their eyebrows; on the death of a dog they shave the 
head and the whole of the body. 

The cats on their decease are taken to the dty of Bubastis, where 
they are embalmed, after which they are buried in certain sacred 
repositories. The dogs are interred in the cities to which they belong, 
also in sacred burial places. The same practice obtains with respect 
to the ichneumons; the hawks and shrewmice, on the contrary, are 
conveyed to the city of Buto for burial, and the ibises to Hermopolis. 
The bears, which are scarce in Egypt, and the wolves, which are not 
much bigger than foxes, they biuy wherever they happen to find 
them lyin g. 

Translated by George Rawlinson 

The following are the peculiarities of the crocodile. During the 
four winter months they eat nothing; they are four-footed, and live 
indifferently on land or in water. The female lays and hatches her 
eggs ashore, passing the greater portion of the day on dry land, but 
at night retiring to the river, the water of which is warmer than the 
night air and the dew. Of all known animals this is the one which from 
the smallest size grows to be the greatest, for the egg of the crocodile 
is but little bigger than that of the goose, and die young crocodile is 
in proportion to the egg; yet when it is full grown, the animal measures 
frequently seventeen cubits and even more. It has the eyes of a pig, 
tee A large and tusklike, of a size proportioned to its frame; unlike 
any other animal, it is without a tongue; it cannot move its under- 
jaw, and in this respect too it is singular, being the only animal in 
the world which moves the upper-jaw but not the under. It has strong 
claws and a scaly skin, impenetrable upon the back. In the water it 
is blind, but on land it is very keen of sight. As it lives chiefly in the 
river, it has the inside of its mouth constantly covered with leeches; 
hence it happens that, while all the other birds and beasts avoid it, 
with the trochilus it lives at peace, since it owes much to that bird: 
for the crocodile, when he leaves the water and comes out upon the 
land, is in the habit of lying with his mouth wide open, facing the 
western breeze; at such times the trochilus goes into his mouth and de- 
vours the leeches. This benefits the crocodile, who is pleased, and 
takes care not to hurt the trochilus. 

The crocodile is esteemed sacred by some of the Egyptians; by 
others he is treated as an enemy. Those who live near Thebes, and 
those who dwell around Lake Moeris, regard them with special ven- 
eration. In each of these places they keep one crocodile in particular, 
who is taught to be tame and tractable. They adorn his ears with 
earrings of molten stone or gold, and put bracelets on his forepaws, 
giving him daily a set portion of bread, with a certain number of 
victims; and, after having thus treated him with the greatest possible 
attention while alive, they embalm him when he dies and bury him 
in a sacred repository. The people of Elephantine, on the other 
hand, are so far from considering these animals sacred that they, 
even eat ffieir flesh. In the Egyptian language they are not called 
crocodiles, but champsae. The name of crocodiles was given them 
by the lonians, who remarked their resemblance to the lizards, 
which in Ionia live in the walls, and are called crocodiles. 


The History of Herodotus 

The modes of catching the crocodile are many and various. I ghaii 
only describe the one which seems to me most worthy of me ntion. 
They bait a hook with a chine of pork and let the meat be carried 
out into the middle of the stream, while the hunter upon the hanV 
holds a living pig, which he belabors. The crocodile hears its cries 
and, making for the sound, encounters the pork, which he instantly 
swallows down. The men on the shore haul, and when they have got 
him to land, the first thing the hunter does is to plaster his eyes with 
mud. Hiis once accomplished, the animal is dispatched with ease; 
otherwise he ^ves great trouble. 

The hippopotamus, in the canton of Papremis, is a sacred animal, 
but not in any other part of Egypt. It may be thus described. It is a 
quadruped, cloven-footed, with hoofs like an ox and a flat nose. It 
has the mane and tail of a horse, huge tusks which are very con- 
spicuous, and a voice like a horse’s neigh. In size it equals the biggest 
oxen, and its skin is so tough that when dried it is made into jav elins 

Otters also are found in the Nile, and are considered sacred. Only 
two sorts of fish are venerated: that called the lepidotus and the eel. 
These are regarded as sacred to the Nile, as likewise among birds is 
the vulpanser, or fox-goose. 

They have also another sacred bird called the phoenix, which I 
myself have never seen, except in pictures. Indeed it is a great rarity, 
even in Egypt, only coming there (according to the accounts of the 
people of Heliopolis) once in five hundred years, when the old 
phoenix dies. Its size and appearance, if it is like the pictures, are 
as follows. The plumage is partly red, partly golden, while the general 
make and size are almost exacUy that of the eagle. They tell a story 
of what this bird does, which does not seem to me to be credible: 
that he comes all the way from Arabia and brings the parent bird, 
all plastered over with myrrh, to the temple of the Sun, and there 
buries the body. In order to bring him, ^ey say, he first foms a 
ball of myrrh as big as he finds that he can carry; then he hollows 
out the ball and puts his parent inside, after which he covers over 
the opening with fresh myrrh, and the ball is then of exactly the 
same weight as at first; so he brings it to Egypt, plastered over as I 
have said, and deposits it in the temple of the Sun. Such is the story 
they tell of the doings of this bird. 

In the neighborhood of Thebes there are some sacred serpents 
which are perfectly harmless. Hiey are of small size, and have two 


Translated by George Rawlinson 
boms growing out of the top of the head. These snakes, when they 
die, are buried in the temple of Jupiter, the god to whom they are 

I went once to a certain place in Arabia, almost exactly opposite 
the city of Buto, to make inquiries concerning the winged serpents. 
On my arrival I saw the backbones and ribs of serpents in such 
numbers as it is impossible to describe: of the ribs there were a 
multitude of heaps, some great, some small, somit middle-sized. The 
place where the bones lie is at the entrance of a narrow gorge between 
steep mountains, which there open upon a spacious plain communi- 
cating with the great plain of Egypt. The story goes that with the 
spring the winged snakes come flying from Arabia toward Egypt, 
but are met in this gorge by the birds called ibises, who forbid their 
entrance and destroy them all. The Arabians assert and the Egyptians 
also admit that it is on account of the service thus rendered that the 
Egyptians hold the ibis in so much reverence. 

The ibis is a bird of a deep black color, with legs like a crane; its 
beak is strongly hooked, and its size is about that of the landrail. 
This is a description of the black ibis which contends with the ser- 
pents. The commoner sort, for there are two quite distinct species, 
has the head and the whole throat bare of feathers; its general plumage 
is white, but the head and neck are jet black, as also are the tips of 
the wings and the extremity of the tail; in its beak and legs it re- 
sembles the other species. The winged serpent is shaped like the 
water snake. Its wings are not feathered, but resemble very closely 
those of the bat And thus I conclude the subject of the sacred 

With respect to the Egyptians themselves, it is to be remarked 
that those who live in the com country, devoting themselves as they 
do far more than any other people in the world to the preservation 
of the memory of past actions, are the best skilled in history of any 
men that I have ever met. The following is the mode of life habitual 
to them. For three successive days in each month they purge the 
body by means of emetics and clysters, which is done out of a regard 
for their health, since they have a persuasion that every disease to 
which men are liable is occasioned by the substances whereon they 
feed. Apart from any such precautions, they are, I believe, next to 
the Libyans, the healthiest people in the world— an effect of their 
climate, in my opinion, which has no sudden changes. Diseases al- 
most always attack men when they are exposed to a change, and 


The History of Herodotus 

never more than diiring changes of the weather. They live on bread 
made of spelt, which they form into loaves called in their own 
tongue cyllestis. Their drink is a wine which they obtain from' barley, 
as they have no vines in their country. Many kinds of fish they eat 
raw, either salted or dried in the sun. Quails also, and ducks and 
small birds, they eat uncooked, merely first salting them. All other 
birds and fishes, excepting those which are set apart as sacred, are 
eaten either roasted or boiled. 

In social meetings among the rich, when the banquet is ended, a 
servant carries around to the several guests a coffin, in which there 
is a wooden image of a corpse, carved and painted to resemble nature 
as nearly as possible, about a cubit or two cubits in length. As he 
shows it to each guest in turn, the servant says, “Gaze here, and 
drink and be merry; for when you die, such will you be.” 

The Egyptians adhere to their own national customs and adopt 
no foreign usages. Many of these customs are worthy of note: among 
others their song, the Linus, which is sung under various names not 
only in Egypt but in Phoenicia, in Cyprus and in other places; and 
which seems to be exactly the same as that in use among the Greeks, 
and by them called Linus. There were very many things in Egypt 
which filled me with astonishment, and this was one of them. Whence 
could the Egyptians have got the Linus? It appears to have been 
sung by them from the very earliest times. For the Linus in Egyptian 
is called Maneros; and they told me that Maneros was the only 
son of their first king, and that on his untimely death he was honored 
by the Egyptians with these dirgelike strains, and in this way they 
got their first and only melody. 

There is another custom in which the Egyptians resemble a par- 
ticular Greek people, namely the Spartans. Their young men, when 
they meet their elders in the streets, give way to them and step aside; 
£md if an elder comes in where young men are present, these latter 
rise from their seats. In a third point they differ entirely from all the 
nations of Greece. Instead of speaking to each other when they meet 
in tile streets, they make an obeisance, sinking the hand to the knee. 

They wear a linen tunic fringed about the legs, and called calasiris; 
over this they have a white woolen garment tiirown on afterwards. 
Nothing woolen, however, is taken into their temples or buried with 
them, as their religion forbids it. Here their practice resembles the 
rites called Orphic and Bacchic, but which are in reality Egyptian and 
Pythagorean; for no one initiated in these mysteries can be buried in 


Translated by George Rawlinson 

a woolen shroud, a religious reason being assigned for the observance. 

The Egyptians likewise discovered to which of the gods each 
month and day is sacred and found out from the day of a man’s 
birth, what he will meet with in the course of his life, and how he 
will end his days, and what sort of man he will be — discoveries 
whereof the Greeks engaged in poetry have made a use. The Egyp- 
tians have also discovered more prognostics than aU the rest of man- 
kind besides. Whenever a prodigy takes place, they watch and record 
the result; then, if anything similar ever happens again, they expect 
the same consequences. 

With respect to divination, they hold that it is a gift which no 
mortal possesses, but only certain of the gods; thus they have an 
oracle of Hercules, one of Apollo, of Minerva, of Diana, of Mars 
and of Jupiter. Besides these, there is the oracle of Latona at Buto, 
which is held in much higher repute than any of the rest. The mode 
of delivering the oracles is not uniform, but varies at the different 

Medicine is practiced among them on a plan of separation; each 
physician treats a single disorder, and no more; thus the country 
swarms with medical practitioners, some undertaking to cure diseases 
of the eye, others of the head, others again of the teeth, others of 
the intestines, and some those which are not local. 

The following is the way in which they conduct their mournings 
and their funerals. On the death in any house of a man of conse- 
quence, forthwith the women of the family beplaster their heads, 
and sometimes even their faces, with mud; and then, leaving the 
body indoors, sally forth and wander through the city, with their 
dress fastened by a band, and their bosoms bare, beating themselves 
as they walk. All the female relatives join them and do the same. 
ITie men too, similarly begirt, beat their breasts separately. When 
these ceremonies are over, the body is carried away to be embalmed. 

There is a set of men in Egypt who practice the art of embalming, 
and make it their proper business. These persons, when a body is 
brought to them, show the bearers various models of corpses, made 
in wood and painted so as to resemble nature. The most perfect is 
said to be after the manner of him whom I do not think it religious 
to namft in connection with such a matter; the second sort is inferior 
to the first, and less costly; the third is the cheapest of all. All this 
the embalmers explain, and tiien ask in which way it is wished that 
the corpse should be prepared. The bearers tell them, and having 


The History of Herodotus 

concluded their bargain, take their departure, while the embahners, 
left to themselves, proceed to their task. The mode of embalming, 
according to the most perfect process, is the following. They take 
first a crooked piece of iron, and with it draw out the brain though 
the nostrils, thus getting rid of a portion, while the skull is cleared 
of the rest by rinsing with drugs; next they make a cut along the 
flank with a sharp Ethiopian stone, and take out the whole contents 
of the abdomen, which they then cleanse, washing it thoroughly with 
palm wine, and again frequently with an infusion of pounded aro- 
matics. After this they fill the cavity with the purest bruised myrrh, 
with cassia, and every other sort of spicery except frankincense, and 
sew up the opening. Then the body is placed in natron for seventy 
days, and covered entirely over. After the expiration of that space 
of time, which must not be exceeded, the body is washed and wrapped 
around, from head to foot with bandages of fine linen cloth, smeared 
over with gum, which is used generally by the Egyptians in place of 
glue, and in this state it is given back to the relatives, who enclose it 
in a wooden case which they have had made for the purpose, shaped 
into the figure of a man. Then fastening the case, they place it in 
a sepulchral chamber, upright against Ae wall. Such is the most 
costly way of embalming the dead. 

If persons wish to avoid expense, and choose the second process, 
the following is the method pursued. Syringes are filled with oil made 
from the cedar tree, which is then, without any incision or disem- 
boweling, injected into the abdomen. The passage by which it might 
be likely to return is stopped, and the body laid in natron the pre- 
scribed number of days. At the end of the time the cedar oil is allowed 
to make its escape; and such is its power that it brings with it the 
whole stomach and intestines in a liquid state. The natron mean- 
while has dissolved the flesh, and so nothing is left of the dead body 
but the skin and the bones. It is returned in this condition to the 
relatives, without any further trouble being bestowed upon it. 

The third method of embalming, which is practiced in the case 
of the poorer classes, is to clear out the intestines with a clyster, and 
let the body lie in natron the seventy days, after which it is at once 
given to those who come to fetch it away. 

The wives of men of rank are not given to be embalmed im- 
mediately after death, nor indeed are any of the more beautiful and 
valued women. It is not till they have been dead three or four days 
that they are carried to the embahners. This is done to prevent 


Translated by George Rawlinson 
indignities from being offered them. It is said that once a case of 
this kind occurred; the man was detected by the information of his 
fellow workman. 

Whenever anyone, Egyptian or foreigner, has lost his life by 
falling a prey to a crocodile or by drowning in the river, the law 
compels ^e inhabitants of the city near which the body is cast up 
to have it embalmed, and to bury it in one of the sacred repositories 
with all possible magnificence. No one may tbiich the corpse, not 
even any of the friends or relatives, but only the priests of the Nile, 
who prepare it for burial with their own hands — ^regarding it as 
something more than the mere body of a man — and themselves lay 
it in the tomb. 

The Egyptians are averse to adopt Greek customs or, in a word, 
those of any other nation. This feeling is almost universal among 
them. At Chemmis, however, which is a large city in the Thebaic 
canton, there is a square enclosure sacred to Perseus. Palm trees 
grow all around the place, which has a stone gateway of an unusual 
size, surmounted by two colossal statues, also in stone. Inside this 
precinct is a temple, and in the temple an image of Perseus. The 
people of Chemmis say that Perseus often appears to them, some- 
times within the sacred enclosure, sometimes in the open country; 
one of the sandals which he has worn is frequently found — ^two cubits 
in length, as they affirm — and then all Egypt flourishes greatly. In 
the worship of Perseus, Greek ceremonies are used; gymnastic games 
are celebrated in his honor, comprising every kind of contest, with 
prizes of cattle, cloaks and skins. I made inquiries of the Chemmites 
why it was that Perseus appeared to them and not elsewhere in Egypt, 
and how they came to celebrate gymnastic contests unlike the rest of 
the Egyptians; to which they answered that Perseus belonged to their 
city by descent. “Danaus and Lynceus were Chemmites before they 
set sail for Greece, and from them Perseus was descended,” they said, 
tracing the genealogy; “ancl he, when he came to Egjpt for the pur- 
pose” (which the Greeks also assign) “of brin^g away from Libya 
the Gorgon’s head, paid tlwm a visit and acknowledged them for Us 
kinsmen — ^he had heard the name of their city from his mother before 
he left Greece — ^he bade them institute a gymnastic contest in his 
htmor, and that was the reason why they observed the practice.” 

The customs hitherto described are those of the Egyptians who live 
above the marsh country. The inhabitants of the marshes have the 
same customs as the rest, as well in those matters which have been 


The History of Herodotus 

mentioned above as in respect to marriage, each Egyptian taking to 
himself, like the Greeks, a single wife; but for greater cheapness of liv- 
ing the marsh men practice certain peculiar customs, such as these fol- 
lowing. They gather the blossoms of a certain water lily, which grows 
in great abundance all over the flat country at the time when the Nile 
rises and floods the regions along its banks — ^the Egyptians call it the 
lotus — ^they gather, I say, the blossoms of this plant and dry them in 
the sim, after which they extract from the center of each blossom a 
substance like the head of a poppy, which they crush and make into 
bread. The root of the lotus is likewise eatable, and has a pleasant 
sweet taste; it is round, and about the size of an apple. There is also 
another species of the lily in Egypt, which grows, like the lotus, in the 
river, and resembles the rose. The fruit springs up side by side with the 
blossom, on a separate stalk, and has almost exactly the look of the 
comb made by wasps. It contains a number of seeds, about the size of 
an olive stone, which are good to eat; and these are eaten both green 
and dried. The byblus (papyrus), which grows year after year in the 
marshes, they pull up, and, cutting the plant in two, reserve the upper 
portion for other purposes, but take the lower, which is about a cubit 
long, and either eat it or else sell it. Such as wish to enjoy the byblus 
in full perfection bake it first in a closed vessel, heated to a glow. Some 
of these folk, however, live entirely on fish, which are gutted as soon 
as caught, and then hung up in the sun; when dry, they are used as 

Gregarious fish are not found in any numbers in the rivers; they 
frequent the lagoons, whence, at the season of breeding, they proceed 
in shoals toward the sea. The males lead the way and drop their milt 
as they go, while the females, following close be^d, eagerly swallow 
it down. From this they conceive, and when, after passing some time 
in the sea, they begin to spawn, the whole shoal sets off on its return 
to its ancient haunts. Now, however, it is no longer the males, but the 
females, who take the lead; they swim in front in a body, and do 
exactly as the males did before, dropping, little by little, their grains 
of spawn as they go, while the males in the rear devour the grains, 
each one of which is a fish. A portion of the spawn escapes and is 
not swallowed by the males, and hence come the fishes which grow 
afterwards to maturity.* When any of this sort of fish are taken on 
their passage to the sea, they are found to have the left side of the 
head scarred and bruised; while if taken on their return, the marks 
* This &eoiy was proved fallacious even in Greek times. 


Translated by George Rawlinson 
appear on the right. The reason is diat as they swim down the Nile 
seaward, they keep close to the bank of the river upon their left, and 
returning again upstream they still cling to the same side, hug^g it 
and brushing against it constantly, to be sure that they miss not their 
road through the great force of &e cunent. When the Nile begins to 
rise, the hollows in the land and the marshy spots near the river are 
flooded before any other places by the percolation of the water 
through the river banks; and these, almost as Sdon as they become 
pools, are found to be full of numbers of little fishes. I think that I 
understand how it is this comes to pass. On the subsidence of the Nile 
the year before, though the fish retired with the retreating waters, they 
had first deposited their spawn in the mud upon the banks; and so, 
when at the usual season the water returns, small fry are rapidly 
engendered out of the spawn of the preceding year. So much concern- 
ing the fish. 

The Egyptians who live in the marshes use for anointing their 
bodies an oil made from the fruit of the castor-oil plant which is 
known among them by the name of kiki. To obtain this, they plant the 
castor-oil plant (which grows wild in Greece) along the banks of the 
rivers and by the sides of the lakes, where it produces fruit in great 
abundance, but with a very disagreeable smell. This fruit is gathered, 
and then bruised and pressed, or else boiled down after roasting; the 
liquid which comes from it is collected and is found to be unctuous, 
and as well suited as olive oil for lamps, only it gives off an unpleasant 

The contrivances which they use against gnats, wherewith the coun- 
try swarms, are the following. In the parts of Egypt above the marshes 
the inhabitants pass the night upon lofty towers, which are of great 
service, as the gnats are unable to fly to any height on account of the 
winds. In the marsh country, where there are no towers, each man 
possesses a net instead. By day it serves him to catch fish, while at 
ni^t he spreads it over the bed in which he is to rest, and creeping in, 
goes to sleep underneath. The gnats, which, if he rolls himself up in 
his dress or in a piece of muslin, are sure to bite through the covering, 
do not so much as attempt to pass the net. 

The vessels used in Egypt for the transport of merchandise are 
made of the Acantha (Thom), a tree which in its growth is very like 
the Cyrenaic lotus, and from which there exudes a gum. They cut a 
quantity of planks about two cubits in length from this tree, and then 
proceed to their shipbuilding, arranging the planks Uke 1;)ricks, and 


The History of Herodotus 

attaching them by ties to a number of long stakes or poles till the huU 
is complete, when they lay the cross planks on the top from side to 
side. They g^ve the boats no ribs, but caulk the seams with papyrus 
on the inside. Each has a single rudder, which is driven straight 
through the keel. The mast is a piece of acantha wood, and the sails 
are made of papyrus. These boats cannot make way against the cur- 
rent unless there is a brisk breeze; they are, therefore, towed up- 
stream from the shore; downstream they are managed as follows. 
There is a raft belon^ng to each, made of the wood of the tamarisk, 
fastened together with a wattling of reeds; and also a stone bored 
through the middle about two talents in weight. The raft is fastened to 
the vessel by a rope and allowed to float down the stream in front, 
while the stone is attached by another rope astern. The result is that 
the raft, hurried forward by the current, goes rapidly down the river 
and drags the bans (for so they call this sort of boat) after it; while 
the stone, which is pulled along in the wake of the vessel, and lies deep 
in the water, keeps the boat straight. There is a vast number of these 
vessels in Egypt, and some of them are of many thousand talents’ 

When the Nile overflows, the country is converted into a sea, and 
nothing appears but the cities, which look like the islands in the 
Aegean. At this season boats no longer keep the course of the river, 
but sail right across the plain. On the voyage from Naucratis to 
Memphis at this season, you pass close to the pyramids, whereas the 
usual course is by the apex of the Delta and the city of Cercasorus. 
You can sail also from the maritime town of Canobus across the flat 
to Naucratis, passing by the cities of Anthylla and Archandrop- 

The former of these cities, which is a place of note, is assigned ex- 
pressly to the wife of the ruler of E^pt for the time being, to keep her 
in shoes. Such has been the custom ever since Egypt fell under the 
Persian yoke. The other city seems to me to have got its name of 
Archandropolis from Archander the Phthian. There might certainly 
have been another Archander; but, at any rate, the name is not 

Thus far I have spoken of Egypt from my own observation, relating 
what I myself saw, the ideas that I formed and the results of my own 
researches. What follows rests on the accounts given me by the Egyp- 
tians, which I shall now repeat, adding thereto some particulars wMch 
fell under my own notice. 


Translated by George Rawlinson 
[Herodotus continues with an account of some ancient kings of 
Egypt, and with an alternative account of the legend of Helen of 
Troy and the involvement in it of Proteus, cm early king of Egypt.] 

When Proteus died, Rbampsinitus, the priests informed me, suc- 
ceeded to the throne. His monuments were &e western gateway of the 
temple of Vulcan and the two statues which stand in front of this 
gateway, called by the Egyptians, the one Summer, the other Winter, 
each twenty-five cubits in height. The statue of Summer, which is the 
northernmost of the two, is worshiped by the natives, and has offerings 
made to it; that of Winter, which stands toward the south, is treatea 
in exactly the contrary way. King Rhampsinitus was possessed, thejn 
said, of great riches in silver — ^indeed to such an amount that none of \ 
the princes, his successors, surpassed or even equaled his wealth. For 

1 *._J 1-^ 1 *1 J . -1. - 

liic uijia iiivijiiwjr, XAW lu uuiiu a vast V/iioiiiut.'i 

of hewn stone, one side of which was to form a part of the outer wall 
of his palace. The builder, therefore, having designs upon the treas- 
ures, contrived, as he was making the building, to insert in this wall 
a stone, which could easily be removed from its place by two men, or 
even by one. So the chamber was finished, and the king’s money 
stored away in it. Hme passed, and the builder fell sick, when finding 
his end approaching, he called for his two sons, and related to them 
the contrivance he had made in the king’s treasure chamber, telling 
them it was for their sakes he had done it, so that they might always 
live in affluence. Then he gave them clear directions concerning the 
mode of removing the stone and communicated the measurements, 
bidding them carefully keep the secret, whereby they would be Comp- 
trollers of the Royal Exchequer so long as they lived. Then the father 
died, and the sons were not slow in setting to work; they went by 
ni ght to the palace, found the stone in the wall of the building, and 
having removed it with ease, plundered the treasury of a round sum. 

When the king next paid a visit to the apartment, he was astonished 
to see that the money was sunk in some of the vessels wherein it was 
stored away. Whom to accuse, however, he knew not, as the seals were 
all perfect, and die fastenings of the room secure. Still each time that 
he repeated his visits, he found that more money was gone. The 
thieves in truth never stopped, but plundered the treasury ever more 
and more. At last the king determined to have some traps made and 
set near the vessels which contained his wealth. This was done, and 
when the thieves came, as usual, to the treasure chamber, and one of 


The History of Herodotus 

them entering through the aperture, made straight for the jars, sud- 
denly he found himself caught in one of the traps. Perceiving that he 
was lost, he instantly called his brother, and telling him what had 
happened, entreated him to enter as quicldy as possible and cut off his 
head, that when his body should be ^scovered it might not be recog- 
nized, which would have the effect of bringing ruin upon both. The 
other thief thought the advice good, and was persuaded to follow it; 
then, fitting the stone into its place, he went home, taking with him his 
brother’s head. 

When the day dawned, the king came into the room, and marveled 
greatly to see the body of the thief in the trap without a head, while 
the building was still whole, and neither entrance nor exit was to be 
seen anywhere. In this perplexity he commanded the body of the dead 
man to be hung up outside the palace wall, and set a guard to watch 
it, with orders that if any persons were seen weeping or lamenting near 
the place, they should be seized and brought before him. When the 
mother heard of this exposure of the corpse of her son, she took it 
sorely to heart, and spoke to her surviving child, bidding him devise 
some plan or other to get back the body, and threatening that if he did 
not exert himself, she would go herself to the king and denounce him 
as the robber. 

The son said all he could to persuade her to let the matter rest, but 
in vain; she still continued to trouble him, until at last he yielded to her 
importunity, and contrived as follows. Filling some skins with wine, he 
loaded them on donkeys, which he drove before him till he came to the 
place where the guar^ were watching the dead body, when pulling 
two or three of Ae skins toward him, he imtied some of fhe necks 
which dangled by the asses’ sides. The wine poured freely out, where- 
upon he began to beat his head and shout with all his might, seeming 
not to know which of the donkeys he should turn to first. When the 
guards saw the wine running, delighted to profit by the occasion, they 
rushed one and all into the road, each with some vessel or other, and 
cauj^t the liquor as it was spilling. The driver pretended anger and 
loaded them with abuse; whereon they did their best to pacify him, im- 
tfl at last he appeared to soften and recover his good humor, drove his 
asses out of the road and set to work to rearrange their burdens; 
meanwhile, as he talked and chatted with the guards, one of them 
began to rally him and make him laugh, whereupon he gave them one 
of the skins as a gift. Hiey now made up their minds to sit down and 
have a drinkin g bout where they were, so they begged him to remain 


Translated by George Rawlinson 
and drink with them. Then the man let himself be persuaded, and 
stayed. As the drinking went on, they grew very frien^y together, so 
presently he gave them another skin, upon which they drank so copi- 
ously that they were all overcome with the liquor, and growing drowsy 
lay down and fell asleep on the spot. The thief waited till it was the 
dead of the night, and ^en took down the body of his brother; after 
which, in mockery, he shaved off the right side of all the soldiers’ 
beards, and so left them. Laying his brother’s body upon the asses, he 
carried it home to his mother, having thus accomplished the thing that 
she had required of him. 

When it came to the king’s ears that the thief s body was stolen 
away, he was sorely vexed. Wishing, therefore, whatever it might cost, 
to catch the man who had contrived the trick, he had recourse (the 
priests said) to an expedient, which I can scarcely credit. He sent his 
own dauglhter to the common stews, with orders to require every man 
to tell her what was the cleverest and wickedest thing he had done in 
the whole course of his life. If anyone in reply told her the story of the 
thief, she was to lay hold of him and not allow him to get away. The 
daughter did as her father willed, whereon the thief, who was well 
aware of the king’s motive, felt a desire to outdo him in craft and 
cunning. Accordingly he contrived the following plan. He procured 
the corpse of a man lately dead, and cutting off one of the arms at 
the shoulder, put it under ^ dress, and so went to the king’s daughter. 
When she put the question to him as she had done to all the rest, he 
replied that the wickedest thing he had ever done was cutting off the 
head of his brother when he was caught in a trap in the king’s treas- 
luy, and the cleverest was making the guards drunk and carrying off 
the body. As he spoke, the princess caught at him, but the thief took 
advantage of the darkness to hold out to her the hand of the corpse. 
Imagining it to be his own hand, she seized and held it fast; while the 
thief, leaving it in her grasp, made his escape by the door. 

The king, when word was brought him of this fresh success, amazed 
at the sagaci^ and boldness of Ae man, sent messengers to all the 
towns in his dominions to proclaim a free pardon for the thief and to 
promise him a rich reward if he came and made himself known. The 
thief took the king at his word and came boldly into his presence; 
whereupon Rhampsinitus, greatly admiring him and looking on him 
as the most knowing of men, gave him his daughter in marriage. “The 
E^tians,” he said, “excelled all the rest of the world in wisdom, and 
this man excelled all other Egyptians.” 


The History of Herodotus 

The same king, I was also infonned by the priests, afterwards de> 
scended alive into the re^on which the Greeks call Hades, and there 
played at dice with Ceres, sometimes winning and sometimes suffering 
defeat. After a while he returned to earth, and brou^t with him a 
golden napkin, a gift which he had received from the goddess. From 
this descent of Rhampsinitus into Hades and return to earth again, the 
Egyptians, I was told, instituted a festival which they certainly cele- 
brated in my day. On what occasion it was that they instituted it, 
whether upon this or upon any other, I cannot determine. The follow- 
ing are the ceremonies. On a certain day in the year the priests weave 
a mantle, and binding the eyes of one of their number with a fillet, they 
put the mantle upon him and take him with them into the roadway 
conducting to the temple of Ceres, where they depart and leave him 
to himself. Then the priest, thus blindfolded, is led (they say) by two 
wolves to the temple of Ceres, twenty furlongs distant from the city, 
where he stays awhile, after which he is brought back from the temple 
by the wolves, and left upon the spot where they first joined him. 

Such as think the tales told by the Egyptians credible are free to 
accept them for history. For my own part, I propose to myself 
throughout my whole work faithfully to record the traditions of the 
several nations. The Egyptians maintain that Ceres and Bacchus pre- 
side in the realms below. They were also the first to broach the opin- 
ion that the soul of man is immortal and that, when the body dies, it 
enters into the form of an animal which is bom at the moment, thence 
passing on from one animal into another, until it has circled through 
the forms of all the creatures which tenant the earth, the water and the 
air, after which it enters again into a human frame and is bora anew. 
The whole period of the transmigration is (they say) three thousand 
years. There are Greek writers, some of an earlier, some of a later 
date, who have borrowed this doctrine from the Egyptians and put it 
forward as their own. I could mention their names, but I abstain from 
doing so. 

Till the death of Rhampsinitus, the priests said, Egypt was excel- 
lently governed, and flourished greatly; but after him Cheops suc- 
ceeded to the throne, and plunged into all manner of wickedness. He 
closed the temples, and forbade the Egyptians to offer sacrifice, com- 
pelling them instead to labor, one and all, in his service. Some were 
required to drag blocks of stone down to the Nile from the quarries in 
the Arabian range of hills; others received the blocks after they had 
been conveyed in boats across the river, and drew them to the range 


Translated by George Rawlinson 
of hills called the Libyan. A hundred thousand men labored constantly 
and were relieved every three months by a fresh lot. It took ten years’ 
oppression of the people to make the causeway for the conveyance of 
the stones, a work not much inferior, in my judgment, to the pyramid 
itself. This causeway is five furlongs in leng&, ten fathoms wide, and 
in heiglht, at the highest part, eigjit fathoms. It is built of polished 
stone, and is covered with carvings of animals. To make it took ten 
years, as I said — or rather to make the causeway, the works on the 
mound where the pyramid stands and the underground chambers, 
which Cheops intended as vaults for his owh'use; these last were buili 
on a sort of island, surrounded by water introduced from the Nile bjr 
a canal. The pyramid itself was twenty years in building. It is a\ 
square, eight hundred feet each way, and the height the same, built^ 
entirely of polished stone, fitted together with the utmost care. The ^ 
stones of which it is composed are none of them less than thirty feet 
in length. 

The pyramid was buUt in steps, battlementwise, as it is called, or, 
according to others, altarwise. After laying the stones for the base, 
they rais^ the remaining stones to their places by means of machines 
formed of short wooden planks. The first machine raised them from 
the ground to the top of the first step. On this there was another 
machine, which received the stone upon its arrival and conveyed it 
to the second step, whence a third machine advanced it still hi^er. 
Either they had as many machines as there were steps in the pyramid, 
or possibly they had but a single machine, which, being easily moved, 
was transfened from tier to tier as the stone rose — ^both accounts are 
^ven, and therefore I mention both. The upper portion of the pyramid 
was finished first, then the middle, and finally the part which was 
lowest and nearest the ground. There is an inscription in Egyptian 
characters on the pyramid which records the quantity of ra^shes, 
onions and garlic consumed by the laborers who constructed it; and I 
perfectly well remember that the interpreter who read the writing to 
me said that the money expended in this way was 1600 talents of 
silver. If this then is d true record, what a vast sum must have been 
spent on the iron tools used in the work, and on the feeding and 
(^thing of the laborers, considering the length of time the work lasted, 
which has already been stated, and the additional time — ^no small 
space, 1 ima^e — ^which most have been occupied by the quarrying 
of the stones, thdr conveyance and the formation of tiie underground 


The History of Herodotus 

The wickedness of Qieops reached such a pitch that, when he had 
spent ail his treasures and wanted more, he sent his daughter to the 
stews, with orders to procure him a certain sum — ^how much I cannot 
say, for I was not told; she procured it, however, and at the same time, 
bent on leaving a monument which should perpetuate her own mem- 
ory, she required each man to make her a present of a stone toward 
the works which she contemplated. With Aese stones she built the 
pyramid which stands midmost of the three that are in front of the 
great pyramid, measuring along each side a hundred and fifty feet. 

Qieops reigned, the Egyptians said, fifty years, and was succeeded 
at his demise by Chephren, his brother. 

Qiephren imitated the conduct of his predecessor and, like him, 
built a pyramid, which did not, however, equal the dimensions of his 
brother’s. Of this I am certain, for I measured them both myself. It 
has no subterraneous apartments, nor any canal from the Nile to 
supply it with water, as dhe other pyramid has. In that, the Nile water, 
introduced through an artificial duct, surrounds an island, where the 
body of Cheops is said to lie. Chephren built his pyramid close to the 
great pyramid of Cheops, and of ^e same dimensions, except that he 
lowered the height forty feet. For the basement he employed the 
many-colored stone of Ethiopia.* These two pyramids stand both on 
the same hill, an elevation not far short of a hundred feet in height. 
The reign of Chephren lasted fifty-six years. 

Thus the afBiction of Egypt endured for the space of one hundred 
and six years, during the whole of which time the temples were shut 
up and never opened. The Egyptians so detest the memory of these 
kings that they do not much like even to mention their names. Hence 
they commonly call the pyramids after Philition, a shepherd who at 
that time fed his flocks about the place. 

After Chephren, Mycerinus (they said), son of Cheops, ascended 
the throne. Ibis prince disapproved the conduct of his father, re- 
opened the temples and allowed the people, who were ground down 
to the lowest point of misery, to return to their occupations and to 
resume the practice of sacrifice. His justice in the decision of causes 
was beyond that of all the former kings. The Egyptians praise him 
in this respect more hi^y than any of their other monarchs, de- 
claring that he not only gave his judgments with fairness, but also, 
when anyone was dissatisfied with his sentence, made compensation 
to him out of his own purse, and thus pacified his anger. Mycerinus 
* Red granite 


Translated by George Rawlinson 
had established his character for mildness, and was acting as I have 
described when the stroke of calamity fell on him. First of all his 
daughter died, the only child that he possessed. Experiencing a bitter 
grief at this visitation, in his sorrow he conceived the wish to entomb 
his diUd in some unusual way. He therefore caused a cow to be made 
of wood, and after the interior had been hollowed out, he had the 
whole surface coated with gold; and in this novel tomb laid the dead 
body of his daughter. 

The cow was not placed underground, but continued visible to my 
times; it was at Sais, in the royal palace, where it occupied a chambe^ 
richly adorned. Every day there are burned before it aromatics of 
every kind; and all night long a lamp is kept burning in the apartment.! 
In an adjoining chamber are statues which the priests at Sais declared! 
to represent the various concubines of Mycerinus. They are colossal \ 
figures in wood, of the number of about twenty, and are represented \ 
naked. Whose images they really are, I cannot say — I can only repeat 
the account which was given to me. 

Concerning these colossal figures and the sacred cow, there is also 
another tale narrated, which runs thus: “Mycerinus was enamored 
of his daughter, and offered her violence — ^the damsel for grief hanged 
herself, and Mycerinus entombed her in the cow. Then her moUier 
cut off the hands of all her tiring-maids, because they had sided with 
the father and betrayed the child; and so the statues of the maids have 
no hands.” All this is mere fable in my judgment, especially what is 
said about the hands of the colossal statues. I could plainly see that 
the figures had only lost their hands through the effect of time. They 
had dropped off, and were still lying on the ground about the feet of 
the statues. 

As for the cow, the greater portion of it is hidden by a scarlet 
coverture; the head and neck, however, which are visible, are coated 
very thickly with gold, and between the horns there is a representa- 
tion in gold of the orb of the sun. The figure is not erect, but lying 
down, with the limbs under the body; Ae dimensions being fully 
those of a large animal of the kind. Every year it is taken from the 
apartment where it is kept and exposed to the ligfit of day — ^this is 
done at the season when the Egyptians beat themselves in honor of 
one of their gods, whose name I am unwilling to mention in con- 
nection with such a matter.* They say that the daughter of My- 
cerinus requested her father in her dying moments to allow her once 
a year to see the sun. 

* Osiris 


The History of Herodotus 

After the death of his daughter, Mycerinus was visited with a 
second calamity, of which I shall now proceed to give an ar/v^nnt 
An oracle reached him from the town of Buto, which said, “Six 
years only shalt thou live upon the earth, and in the seventh thou 
shalt end thy days.” Mycerinus, indignant, sent an angry message 
to the oracle, reproaching the god with his injustice. “My father and 
uncle,” he said, “though they shut up the temples, took no thought 
of the gods and destroyed multitudes of men, nevertheless enjoyed 
a long life; I, who am pious, am to die so soon!” There came in reply 
a second message from the oracle. “For this very reason is thy life 
brought so quickly to a close — ^thou hast not done as it behooved 
thee. Egypt was fated to suffer afiSiction one hundred and fifty years 
— ^the two kings who preceded thee upon the throne understood this 
— thou hast not understood it.” Mycerinus, when this answer reached 
him, perceiving that his doom was fixed, had lamps prepared, which 
he lighted every day at eventide, and feasted and enjoyed himself 
unceasingly both day and night, moving about in the marsh country 
and the woods, and visiting all the places that he heard were agreeable 
sojourns. His wish was to prove the oracle false, by turning the nights 
into days, and so living twelve years in the space of six. 

He too left a pyramid, but much inferior in size to his father’s. It 
is a square, each side of which falls short of three plethra by twenty 
feet, and is built for half its height of the stone of Ethiopia. Some of 
the Greeks call it the work of Rhodopis the courtesan, but they re- 
port falsely. It seems to me that these persons cannot have any real 
knowledge who Rhodopis was; otherwise they would scarcely have 
ascribed to her a work on which uncounted treasures, so to speak, 
must have been expended. Rhodopis also lived during the reign of 
Amasis, not of Mycemius, and was thus very many years later than 
the time of the kings who built the pyramids. She was a Thracian by 
birth, and was the slave of ladmon. Aesop, the fable writer, was one 
of her fellow slaves. That Aesop belonged to ladmon is proved by 
many facts — among others, by this. When the Delphians,.in obedi- 
ence to the command of the oracle, made proclamation that if any- 
one claimed compensation for the murder of Aesop he should receive 
it, the person who at last came forward was ladmon, grandson of the 
former ladmon, and he received the compensation. Aesop therefore 
must certainly have been the former ladmon’s slave. 

Rhodopis really arrived in Egypt under the conduct of Xantheus 
the Samian; she was brought there to exercise her trade, but was re- 
deemed for a vast sum by Charaxus, a Mytilenean, brother of Sappho 


Translated by George Rawlinson 
the poetess. After thus obtaining her freedom, ^e remained in Egypt, 
and, as she was very beautiful, amassed great wealth, for a person in 
her condition; not, however, enough to enable her to erect such a 
work as this pyramid. Anyone who likes may go and see to what the 
tenth part of her wealth amounted, and he will thereby learn that 
her riches must not be imag^ed to have been very wonderfully great. 
Wishing to leave a memorial of herself in Greece, she determined to 
have something made the like of which was not to be found in any 
temple, and to offer it at the shrine at Delphi.. So she set apart a tenth 
of her possessions, and purchased with the money a quantity of iroi 
spits, such as are fit for roasting oxen whole, whereof she made a 
present to the oracle. They are still to be seen there, lying in a heapi 
behind the altar which the Chians dedicated, opposite the sanctuary.! 
Naucratis seems somehow to be the place where such women are most\ 
attractive. First there was this Rhodopis of whom we have been ' 
speaking, so celebrated a person that her name came to be familiar 
to all the Greeks', and afterwards there was another, called Archidice, 
notorious throu^out Greece, though not so much talked of as her 
predecessor. Charaxus, after ransoming Rhodopis, returned to My- 
tilene, and was often lashed by Sappho in her poetry. But enou^ 
has been said on the subject of this courtesan. 

{Herodotus traces the line of Egyptian kings down to Amasis, 
against whom Cambyses, King of Persia, son of the great Cyrus 
of the First Book, waged war.\ 

* * «• « 

of Persia, conquered Egypt, but committed many outrages, such 
as murdering his own relatives, and finally died at Agbatana in 
Syria as foretold by an oracle. Because of his madness, his Idng- 
dom was seized before his death by two brothers who were leaders 
of the priestly caste of Magi. These two were killed by seven con- 
spirators, led by Darius, who re-established the monarchy and 
founded a dynasty to replace the extirtct line of Cyrus. Darius’ 
empire stretched from modem Egypt and Turkey to India and 
Russian Turkestan. Although he ruled well, he was troubled by 
a revolt in Babylon, which flayed his plans for invading Scythia.] 



A fter the taking of babylon, an expedition was led by Darius 
L into Scythia. Asia abounding in men, and vast sums flowing into 
the beasury, the desire seized him to exact vengeance from the Scyths, 
who had once in days gone by invaded Media, defeated those who met 
them in the field, and so begun the quarrel. During the space of eight- 
and-twenty years, the Scyths continued lords of the whole of Upper 
Asia. They entered Asia in pursuit of the Cimmerians and overthrew 
the empire of the Medes, who till they came possessed the sover- 
eignty. On their return to their homes after the long absence of 
twen^-eight years, a task awaited them little less troublesome than 
their struggle with the Medes. They found an army of no small size 
prepared to oppose their entrance. For the Scythian women, when 
they saw that time went on and their husbands did not come back, 
had intermarried with their slaves. 

Now the Scythians blind all their slaves to use them in preparing 
their milk. The plan they follow is to thrust tubes made of bone, not 
unlike our musical pipes, up the vulva of the mare, and then to blow 
into the tubes with their mouths, some milking while the others blow. 
They say that they do this because when the veins of the animal are 
full of air, the udder is forced down. The milk thus obtained is poured 
into deep wooden casks, about which the blind slaves are placed, 
and then the milk is stirred around. That which rises to the top is 
drawn off and considered the best part; the under portion is of less 
account. Such is the reason why the Scythians blind all those whom 
they take in war; it arises from their not being tillers of the ground, 
but a pastoral race. 

When therefore the children sprung from these slaves and the Scyth- 
ian women grew to manhood and understood the circumstances of 
their birth, they resolved to oppose the army which was returning from 
Media. And, first of all, they cut off a tract of country from the rest 
of Scythia by di g ging a broad dike from the Tauric mountains to the 
vast Sea of Azov. Afterwards, when the Scythians tried to force an 
entrance, they marched out and engaged tiiem. Many battles were 
fou^t, an d the Scyffiians gained no advantage, until at last one of 
them thus addressed the remainder: “What are we doing, Scythians? 


Translated by George Rawlinson 
We are fighting our slaves, diminishing our own number when we 
fall and the number of those that belong to us when they fall by our 
hands. Take my advice — lay spear and bow aside, and let each man 
fetch his horsewhip, and go boldly up to them. So long as they see us 
with arms in our hands, they imagine themselves our equals in birth 
and bravery; but let them l^hold us with no other weapon but the 
whip, and they will feel that they are our slaves, and flee before us.” 

The Scythians followed this counsel, and the slaves were so as- 
tounded diat they forgot to fight and immediately ran away. Such 
was the mode in which the Scythians, after being for a time the lord4 
of Asia, and being forced to quit it by the Medes, returned and settled 
in their own country. This inroad of theirs it was that Darius waa 
anxious to avenge, and such was the purpose for which he was nowl 
collecting an army to invade them. \ 

According to the account which the Scythians themselves give, ' 
they are the youngest of all nations. Their tradition is as follows. A 
certain Targitaus was the first man who ever lived in their country, 
which before his time was a desert without inhabitants. He was a 
child — do not believe the tale, but it is told nevertheless — of Jove 
and a daughter of the Borysthenes. Targitaus, thus descended, begat 
three sons, Leipoxais, Arpoxais, and Colaxais, who was the young- 
est bom of the three. While they still ruled the land, there feU from 
the sky four implements, all of gold — a plough, a yoke, a battle-ax, 
and a drinking cup. The eldest of the brothers perceived them first 
and approached to pick them up; when lo! as he came near, the gold 
took fire and blazed. He therefore went his way, and the second 
coming forward made the attempt, but the same thing happened 
again. The gold rejected both the eldest and the second brother. Last 
of an the yoimgest brother approached, and immediately the flames 
were extinguished; so he picked up the gold and carried it to his home. 
Then the two elder agreed together and made the whole kingdom 
over to the youngest bom. 

Such is the account which the Scythians ^ve of their origin. They 
add that from the time of Targitaus, their first king, to the invasion 
of their country by Darius, is a period of one thousand years, neither 
less nor more. Hie Royal Scythians guard the sacred gold with spe- 
cial care, and year by year c^er great sacrifices in its honor. At this 
feast, if the man who has the custody of the gold should faU asleep 
in the open air, he is sure (the Scythians say) not to outlive the year. 
His pay therefore is as much land as he can ride around on horseback 


The History of Herodotus 

in a day. As the extent of Scythia is very great, Colaxais gave each 
of his three sons a separate Idngdom, one of which was of ampler 
size than the other two; in this the gold was preserved. Above, to the 
northward of the furthest dwellers in Scythia, the country is said to 
be concealed from sight and made impassable by reason of the feath- 
ers which are shed abroad abundantly. The earth and air are alike 
full of them, and this it is which prevents the eye from obtaining any 
view of the region. 

The Greeks who dwell about the Black Sea tell a different story. 
According to them, Hercules, when he was carrying off the cows of 
Geryon, arrived in the re^on which is now inhabited by the Scyths, 
but which was then a desert. Geryon lived far from the Black Sea 
on an island near Cadiz, which is beyond the Straits of Gibraltar 
upon the Ocean. Now some say that the Ocean be^s in the east 
and runs the whole way around the world; but they give no proof 
that this is really so. Hercules came from thence into the region now 
called Scythia, and, being overtaken by storm and frost, drew his 
lion’s skin about him and fell fast asleep. While he slept, his mares, 
which he had loosed from his chariot to graze, by some wonderful 
chance disappeared. 

On waking, he went in quest of them, and, after wandering over 
the whole country, came at last to the district called “The Woodland,” 
where he found in a cave a strange being, between a maiden and a 
serpent, whose form from the waist upward was like that of a woman, 
while all below was like a snake. He looked at her wonderingly; but 
nevertheless inquired whether she had chanced to see his strayed 
mares anywhere. She answered him, “Yes, and they are now in my 
keeping; but never would I consent to give them back, unless you 
took me for your mistress.” So Hercules, to gpt his mares back, 
agreed; but afterwards she put him off and delayed restoring the 
mares, since she wished to keep him with her as long as possible. He, 
on the other hand, was only anxious to secure them and to get away. 
At last, when she gave them up, she said to him, “When .thy mares 
strayed hither, it was I who saved them for thee; now thou hast paid 
their salvage; for lo! I bear in my womb three sons of thine. Tell me 
therefore when thy sons grow up, what must I do with them? Wouldst 
thou wish that I should settle them here in this land, whereof I am 
mistress, or shall I send them to thee?” Thus questioned, they say, 
Hercules answered, “When the lads have grown to manhood, do thus, 
* Snowflakes, as described by Herodotus 


Translated by George Rawlinson 
and assuredly thou wilt not err. Watch them, and when thou seest 
one of them bend this bow as I now bend it, and gird himself with 
this girdle thus, choose Mm to remain in the land. Those who fail 
in the trial, send away. Thus wilt thou at once please thysdf and 
obey me.” 

Hereupon be strung one of his bows — ^up to that time he had car- 
ried two— and showed her how to fasten the belt. Then he gave both 
bow and belt into her hands. Now the belt had a golden goblet at- 
tached to its clasp. So after he had given them to her, he went his 
way; and the woman, when her children ^w to manhood, first ga>|e 
them severally their names. One she called Agathyrsus, one Gelonus, 
and the other, who was the youngest. Scythes. Then she remembered 
the instructions she had received from Hercules, and, in obedienc^ 
to his orders, she put her sons to the test. Two of them, Agathyrstts\ 
and Gelonus, proving unequal to the task enjoined, their mother sent 
them out of the land; Sc^es, the youngest, succeeded, and so he 
was allowed to remain. From Scythes, the son of Hercules, were de- 
scended the later kings of Scythia; and from the circumstance of the 
goblet which hung from the Mt, the Scythians to this day wear gob- 
lets at their girdles. This was the only thing which the mother of 
Scythes did for him. Such is the tale told by the Greeks who dwell 
around the Black Sea. 

There is also another different story, now to be related, in which 
1 am more inclined to put faith than in any other. It is that the wander- 
ing Scythians once dwelt in Asia, and there warred with the Massa- 
getae, but with ill success; they therefore quitted their homes, crossed 
&e Volga River and entered the land of Cimmeria. For the land which 
is now inhabited by the Scyths was formerly the country of the Cim- 
merians. On their coming, the natives, who heard how numerous the 
invading army was, held a council. At this meeting opinion was di- 
vided, and both parties stMy maintained their own views; but the 
counsel of the Royal tribe was the braver. For the others urged that 
the best thing to be done was to leave the country, and avoid a con- 
test with so vast a host; but the Royal tribe ad^ed remaining and 
fighting for the soil to the last. As neither party chose to give way, the 
one determined to retire without a blow and yield their lands to the 
invaders; but the other, remembering the good thmgs which they had 
ei^oyed in their homes, and picturing to themselves the evils which 
they had to expect if Aey gave them up, resolved not to flee, but 
raffier to die and at least be buried in their fatherland. Having thus 


The History of Herodotus 

decided, they drew apart in two bodies, the one as numerous as the 
other, and fou^t together. AH of the Royal tribe were slain, and the 
people buried them near the River Dniester, where their grave is still 
to be seen. Then the rest of the Cimmerians departed, and the Scyth- 
ians, on their coming, took possession of a deserted land. 

Scythia still retains traces of the Cimmerians; there are Cimmerian 
castles, and a Cimmerian ferry, also a tract called Cimmeria. It 
appears likewise that the Cimmerians, when they fled into Asia to 
escape the Scyths, made a settlement in the peninsula where the 
Greek city of Sinope was afterwards built. The Scyths, it is plain, 
pursued them, and missing their road, poured into Media. For the 
Cimmerians kept the line which led along the seashore, but the Scyths 
in their pursuit held the Caucasus upon their right, thus proceeding 
inland, and falling upon Media. This account is one which is common 
both to Greeks and barbarians. 

[After a further account of the Scythians, and of other barbarous 
tribes living about the Black Sea, Herodotus describes the ex- 
pedition of Dcerius. Because the Scythians could not be induced 
to fight a pitched battle, and had no settled communities that 
could be captured, the expedition was a failure.] 


T he PERSIANS LEFT BEHIND by King Darius in Europe,* who had 
Megabazus for their general, reduced, before any other Helles- 
pontine state, the people of Perinthus, who had no mind to become 
subjects of the king. Now the Perinthians had ere this been rou^y 
handled by another nation, the Paeonians. For the Paeonians from 
about the River Struma were once bidden by an oracle to make war 
upon the Perinthians, and if these latter, when the camps faced (me 
another, challenged them by name to fight, then to venture on a bat- 
tle, but if otherwise, not to make the hazard. Hie Paeonians followed 
the advice. Now the men of Perinthus drew out to meet them in the 
skirts of their city; and a threefold single combat was fou^ on the 
challenge given. Man to man and horse to horse and dog to dog was 
the strife waged; and the Perinthians, winners of two combats out of 
* After his unsuccessful campaign in Scythia, Darius withdrew to the Danube 
and the HeUespmiL 


Translated by George RawHnson 
fhe three, in their joy had raised the paean; when the Paeonians, 
struck by the thou^t that this was what the oracle had meant, 
passed the word to one another, saying, “Now of a surety has the 
oracle been fulfilled for us; now our work begins.” Then the Paeonians 
set upon the Perinthians in the midst of their paean, and defeated 
them utterly, leaving but few of them alive. 

Such was the affair of the Paeonians, which happened a long time 
previously. At this time the Perinthians, after a brave strug^e for 
freedom, were overcome by numbers, and yielded to Megabazus and 
his Persians. After Perinthus had been brought under, MegabaziE 
led his host through Thrace, subduing to the dominion of the king au 
the towns and all the nations of those parts. For the king’s commana 
to him was that he should conquer Thrace. \ 

The Thracians are the most powerful people in the world, except,\ 
of course, the Indians; and if they had one ruler, or were agreed 
among themselves, it is my belief that their match could not be found 
anywhere, and that they would very far surpass all other nations. 
But such union is impossible for them, and there are no means of 
ever bringing it about. Herein therefore consists their weakness. The 
Thracians bear many names in the different regions of their country, 
but all of them have like usages in every respect, excepting the Trausi 
and those who dwell above the people of Creston. 

The Trausi in all else resemble the other Thracians, but have 
customs at births and deaths which I will now describe. When a 
child is bom all its kindred sit around about it in a circle and weep 
for the woes it will have to undergo now that it is come into the 
world, making mention of every ill that falls to the lot of human- 
kind; when, on the other hand, a man has died, they bury him 
with laugfiter and rejoicings, and say that now he is &ee from a 
host of sufferings and enjoys the completest happiness. 

The Thracians who live above the Crestonaeans observe the fol- 
lowing customs. Each man among them has several wives; and no 
sooner does a man die than a sharp contest ensues among the wives 
upon the question, which of them all the husband loved most ten- 
derly; the friends of each eagerly plead on her behalf, and she to 
whom the honor is adjudged, after receiving the praises both of 
men and women, is slain over the grave by the hand of her next of 
Hn, and then buried with her husband. The others are sorely grieved, 
for nothing is considered such a disgrace. 

The Thracians who do not belong to these tribes have the cus- 


The History of Herodotus 

toms which follow. They sell their chQdren to traders. On their 
maidens they keep no watch, but leave them altogether free, while 
on the conduct of their wives they keep a most strict watch. Brides 
are purchased from their parents for large sums of money. Tattooing 
among them marks noble birth, and the want of it low birth. To 
be idle is accounted the most honorable thing, and to be a tiller 
of the ground the most dishonorable. To live by war and plunder 
is of all things the most gjiorious. These are the most remarkable 
of their customs. 

The gods which they worship are but three: Mars, Bacchus and 
Diana.* Their kings, however, unlike the rest of the citizens, wor- 
ship Mercury more than any other god, always swearing by his 
name, and declaring that they are themselves sprung from him. 

Their wealthy ones are buried in the following fashion. The body 
is laid out for three days; and during this time they kill victims of 
all kinds, and feast upon them, after first bewailing the departed. 
Then they either bum the body or else bury it in the ground. Lastly, 
they raise a mound over the grave and hold games of all sorts, 
wherein the single combat is awarded the highest prize. Such is 
the mode of burial among the Thracians. 

As regards the region lying north of this country no one can say 
with any certainty what men inhabit it. It appears that you no sooner 
cross the Danube than you enter on an interminable wilderness. 
The only people of whom I can hear as dwelling beyond the Danube 
are the race named Sigynnae, who wear, they say, a dress like the 
Medes, and have horses which are covered entirely with a coat of 
shaggy hair, five fingers in length. They are a small breed, flat- 
nosed, and not strong enough to bear men on their backs; but when 
yoked to chariots, they are among the swiftest known, which is the 
reason why the people of that country use chariots. Their borders 
reach down almost to the Adriatic !tea, and they call themselves 
colonists of the Medes; but how they can be colonists of the Medes 
I for my part cannot imagine. Still nothing is impossible in the 
long lapse of ages. Sigynnae is the name which the Ligurians who 
dwell above Marseilles give to traders, while among the people of 
Cyprus the word means spears. 

According to the account which the Thracians g^ve, the country 
beyond the Danube is possessed by mosquitoes, on account of which 
it is impossible to penetrate farther. But in this they seem to me 
* War, drinking and hunting 


Translated by George Rawlinson 
to say what has no likelihood; for it is certain that those creatures 
are very impatient of cold. I rather believe that it is on account of 
the cold that the regions which lie under the North Star are without 
inhabitants. Such then are the amounts given of this country, the 
seacoast which Megabazus was now employed in subjecting to the 

King Darius had no sooner crossed the Dardanelles and reached 
Sardis, than he thought of Histiaeus and the good counsel of Coes.* 
He therefore sent for both of them to Sardis, and bade them each 
crave a boon at his hands. Now Histiaeus;’ as he was already kii^ 
of Miletus, did not make request for any government besides, bin 
asked Darius to give him Myrcinus, where he wished to build hiiq 
a city. Such was the choice that Histiaeus made. Coes, on the 
other hand, as he was a mere burgher and not a king, requested the\ 
sovereignty of Mytilene. Both alike obtained their requests, and^ 
straightway took themselves to the places which they had chosen. 

It chanced in the meantime that King Darius saw a sight which 
determined him to bid Megabazus remove the Paeonians from their 
seats in Europe and transport them to Asia. There were two Paeo- 
nians, Pigres and Mantyes, whose ambition it was to obtain the sover- 
eignty over their countrymen. As soon therefore as Darius crossed 
into Asia, these men came to Sardis, and brought with them their 
sister, who was a tall and beautiful woman. Having so done, they 
waited till a day came when the king sat in state in the suburb of 
the Lydians; and then dressing their sister in the richest gear they 
could, sent her to draw water for them. She bore a pitcher upon 
her head, and with one arm led a horse, while all the way as she 
w^nt she spun flax. Now as she passed by where the king was, 
Darius took notice of her; for it was neither like the Persians nor 
the Lydians, nor any of the dwellers in Asia, to do as she did. 
Darius accordingly noted her and ordered some of his guard to 
follow her steps and watch to see what she would do with the horse. 
So the spearmen went; and the woman, when she came to the river, 
first watered the horse, and then filling the pitcher, came back the 
same way she had gone, with the pitcher of water upon her head 
and the horse dragging upon her arm, while she still kept twirling 
the spindle. 

King Darius was full of wonder both at what they who had 
watched the woman told him and at what he had himself seen. So 
* Who had both helped him in Scythia 


The History of Herodotus 

he conunanded that she should be brought before him. And the 
woman came; and with her appeared her brothers, who had been 
watching everything a little way off. Then Darius asked them of 
what nation the woman was; and the young men replied that they 
were Paeonians and she was their sister. Darius rejoined by asUn g , 
“Who are the Paeonians and in what part of the world do they live? 
and further, what business has brought you young men to Sardis?” 
Then the brothers told him they had come to put themselves under 
his power, and Paeonia was a country upon the River Strymon, and 
the Strymon was at no great distance ffom the Hellespont. The Paeo- 
nians, they said, were colonists from Troy. When they had thus an- 
swered his questions, Darius asked if ail Ae women of their country 
worked so hard. Then the brothers eagerly answered yes; for this 
was the very object with which the whole thing had been done. 

So Darius wrote letters to Megabazus, the commander whom he 
had left behind in Thrace, and ordered him to remove the Paeo- 
nians from their own land and bring them into his presence, men, 
women and children. And straightway a horseman took the message 
and rode at speed to the Hellespont; and, crossing it, gave the 
paper to Megabazus. Then Megabazus, as soon as he had read 
it and procured guides from Thrace, made war upon Paeonia. 

Now when the Paeonians heard that the Persians were marching 
against them, they gathered themselves together and marched down 
to the seacoast, since they thought the Persians would endeavor 
to enter their country on that side. Here then they stood in readi- 
ness to oppose the army of Megabazus. But the Persians, who knew 
that they had collected and were gone to keep guard at the pass 
near the sea, gpt guides and, taking the inland route before the 
Paeonians were aware, poured down upon their cities, from which 
the men had all marched out; and fin^g them empty, easily got 
possession of them. Then the men, when they heard ^at all their 
towns were taken, scattered this way and that to their homes and 
gave themselves up to the Persians. And so these tribes of the 
Paeonians as far as Lake Dojran * were tom from their seats and 
led away into Asia. 

They on the other hand who dwelt about Mount Pangaion and 
who inhabited Lake Dojran were not conquered by Megabazus. 
He sougjht indeed to subdue the dwellers upon the lake, but could 
not effect his purpose. Their manner of living is the following. Plat- 
* On the Yugoslav-Greek border 


Translated by George Rawlinson 
fonns supported upon tall piles stand in the middle of the lake, 
which are approached from the land by a single narrow bridge. 
At the first the piles which bear up the platforms were fixed in their 
places by the whole body of the citizens, but since that time the 
custom which has prevailed about fixing them is this: they are 
brought from a hill called Orbelus, and every man drives in three 
for each wife that he marries. Now the mm have all many wives 
apiece; and this is the way in which they live. Each has his own 
hut wherein he dwells upon one of the platforms, and each has also 
a trap door giving access to the lake beneajh; and their custom isj 
to tie their baby children by the foot with a string, to save themi 
from rolling into the water. They feed their horses and their otherl 
beasts upon fish, which abound in the lake to such a degree that a \ 
man has only to open his trap door and to let down a basket by \ 
a rope into the water, and then to wait a very short time, when he \ 
draws it up quite full of them. The fish are of two kinds, which they 
call the paprax and the tilon. 

The Paeonians therefore — at least such of them as had been con- 
quered — ^were led away into Asia. As for Megabazus, he no sooner 
brought the Paeonians under than he sent into Macedonia an em- 
bassy of Persians, choosing for the purpose the seven men of most 
note in all the army after himself. These persons were to go to 
Amyntas, and require him to give earth and water to King Darius, 
Now there is a short cut from Lake Dojran across to Macedonia. 
Quite dose to the lake is the mine which yielded afterwards a tal- 
ent of silver a day to Alexander; and from this mine you have only 
to cross the mountain called Dysorum to find yourself in the Mace- 
donian territory. 

So the Persians sent upon this errand, when they reached the 
court, and were brought into the presence of Amyntas, required 
him to give earth and water to King Darius. And Amyntas not 
only gave them what they asked, but also invited them to come 
and feast with him; after which he made ready the board with great 
mag nificence, and entertained the Persians in right friendly fashion. 
Now when the meal was over and they were all to the drinking, 
the Persians said: 

"Dear Macedonian, we Persians have a custom when we make 
a great feast to bring with us to the board our wives and concubines 
and make them sit beside us. Now then, as thou hast received us 
so kindly, and feasted us so handsomely, and givest moreover earth 
and water to King Darius, do also after our custom in this matter.” 


The History of Herodotus 

Then Amyntas answered: “O, Persians! we have no such cus- 
tom as this; but with us, men and women are kept apart. Never- 
theless, since you, who are our lords, wish it, this also shall be 
granted to you.” 

When Amyntas had thus spoken, he bade some go and fetch the 
women. And the women came at his call and took their seats in a 
row over against the Persians. Then, when the Persians saw that 
the women were fair and comely, they spoke again to Amyntas 
and said that “what had been done was not wise; for it had been bet- 
ter for the women not to have come at all, than to come in this way, 
and not sit by their sides, but remain over against them, the torment 
of their eyes.” So Amyntas was forced to bid the women sit side 
by side with the Persians. The women did as he ordered; and then 
the Persians, who had drunk more than they ought, began to put 
their hands on them, and one even tried to give the woman next 
him a kiss. 

King Amyntas saw, but he kept silence, although sorely grieved, 
for he greatly feared the power of the Persians. Alexander, however, 
Amyntas’ son, who was likewise there and witnessed the whole, 
being a young man and unacquainted with suffering, could not any 
longer restrain himself. He therefore, full of wrath, spoke thus to 
Amyntas; “Dear father, thou art old and should spare thyself. Rise 
up from table and go take thy rest; do not stay out the drinking. I 
will remain with the guests and pve them all that is fitting.” 

Amyntas, who guessed that Alexander would play some wild 
prank, made answer: “Dear son, thy words sound to me as those 
of one who is well-nigh on fire, and I perceive thou sendest me 
away that thou mayest do some wild deed. I beseech thee make 
no commotion about these men, lest thou bring us all to ruin, but 
bear to look calmly on what they do. For myself, I will even with- 
draw as thou biddest me.” 

Amyntas, when he had thus besought his son, went out; and Al- 
exander said to the Persians, “Look on these ladies as your own, 
dear strangers, all or any of them — only tell us your wishes. But 
now, as the evening wears, and I see you have all had wine enough, 
let them, if you please, retire, and when they have bathed they 
shall come back again.” To this the Persians agreed, and Alexander, 
having got the women away, sent them off to the harem and made 
ready in their room an equal number of beardless youths, whom 
he dressed in the garments of the women, and then, arming them 
with daggers, brought them in to the Persians, saying as he intro- 


Translated by George Rawlinson 
duced them, “I think, dear Persians, that your entertainment has 
fallen short in nothing. We have set before you all that we had 
ourselves in store, and all that we could anywhere find to ^ve you — 
and now, to crown the whole, we make over to you our sisters and 
our mothers, that you may perceive yourselves to be entirely hon- 
ored by us, even as you deserve to be — and also that you may 
take back word to the king who sent you here that there was one 
man, a Greek, the king of Macedonia, by whom you were both 
feasted and lodged handsomely.” So speaking, Alexander set by 
the side of each Persian one of those Whom he had called Made- 
donian women, but who were in truth men. And these men, when 
the Persians began to be rude, dispatched them with their daggem. 

So the ambassadors perished by this death, both they and also 
their followers. For the Persians had brought a great train with 
them: carriages and attendants and baggage of every kind — all of 
which disappeared at the same time as the men themselves. Not 
very long afterwards the Persians made strict search for their lost 
embassy; but Alexander, with much wisdom, hushed up the busi- 
ness, bribing those sent on the errand, partly with money and partly 
with the gift of his own sister, whom he gave in marriage to Buba- 
res, a Persian, the leader of the expedition which came in search, 
of the lost men. Thus the death of these Persians was hushed up, 
and no more was said of it. 

[In the remainder of the Fifth Book, Herodotus describes the 
rising power of Athens: the murder of the tyrant Hipparchus, 
the expulsion of the tyrant Hippias and the intrigues of Hippias 
to be restored to power, supported first by the Spartans and then 
by the Persians. A revolt against Persian rule in the Ionian cities 
of Turkey, led by Aristagoras, was encouraged by the Athenians, 
who sent an expedition to Sardis, capturing and burning the city. 
Darius vowed revenge. The Ionian revolt was no further sup- 
ported by Athens, and was soon crushed.] 


ARISTAGORAS, THE AUTHOR of the Ionian revolt, perished. Mean- 
Am. while Histiaeus, tyrant of Miletus, who had been allowed by 
Darhis to leave Susa, came down to Sardis. On his arrival, bring ariced 


The History of Herodotus 

by Artaphernes, the ruler of Sardis, what he thought was the rea- 
son that the lonians had rebelled, he made answer that he could 
not conceive of it, and it had astonished him greatly, pretending to 
be quite unconscious of the whole business. Artaphernes, however, 
who perceived that he was dealing dishonestly, and who had in fact 
full knowledge of the whole history of the outbreak, said to him, “I 
will tell thee how the case stands, Histiaeus: this shoe is of thy stitch- 
ing: Aristagoras has but put it on.” 

Such was the remark made by Artaphernes concerning the re- 
bellion. Histiaeus, alarmed at the knowledge which he displayed, as 
soon as ni^t fell, fled away to the coast. Thus he forfeited his word 
to Darius; for though he had pledged himself to bring Sardinia, the 
biggest island in the whole world, under the Persian yoke, he in 
reality sought to obtain the direction of the war against the king. 
Crossing over to Chios, he was there laid in bonds by the inhabitants, • 
who accused him of intending some mischief against them in the in- 
terest of Darius. However, when the whole truth was laid before 
them, and they found that Histiaeus was in reality a foe to the king, 
they forthwith set him at large again. 

After this the lonians inquired of him for what reason he had so 
strongly urged Aristagoras to revolt from the king, thereby doing 
their nation so ill a service. In reply, he took good care not to disclose 
to them the real cause, but told them that King Darius had intended 
to remove the Phoenicians from their own country, and place them 
in Ionia, while he planted the lonians in Phoenicia, and that it was 
for this reason he sent Aristagoras the order. Now it was not true that 
the king had entertained any such intention, but Histiaeus succeeded 
hereby in arousing the fears of the lonians. 

After this, Histiaeus, by means of a certain Hermippus, sent letters 
to many of the Persians in Sardis, who had before held some dis- 
course with him concerning a revolt. Hermippus, however, instead 
of conveying them to the persons to whom they were addressed, de- 
livered them into the hands of Artaphernes, who, perceiving what was 
on foot, commanded Hermippus to deliver the letters according to 
their addresses, and then bring him back the answers which were 
sent to Histiaeus. The traitors being in this way discovered, Arta- 
phemes put a number of Persians to death, and caused a commo- 
tion in Sardis. 

As for Histiaeus, when his hopes in this matter were disappointed, 
he persuaded the Chians to carry him back to Miletus; but the Mi- 


Translated by George Rawlinson 
lesians were too well pleased at having got quit of Aristagoras to be 
anxious to receive another tyrant into their country; besides which 
they had now tasted liberty. They therefore opposed his return; and 
when he endeavored to force an entrance during the night, one of 
the inhabitants even wounded him in the thigh. Having been thus 
rejected from his country, he went back to Chios; whence, after fail- 
ing in an attempt to induce the Chians to ^ve him ships, he crossed 
over to Mytilene, where he succeeded in obtaining vessels from the 
Lesbians. They fitted out a squadron of eight triremes, and sailed 
with him to the Hellespont, where they'tbok up their station, ai^d 
proceeded to seize all the vessels which passed out from the Black 
Sea, unless the crews declared themselves ready to obey his orden. 

While Histiaeus and the Mytileneans were thus employed, Miletus 
was expecting an attack from a vast armament, which comprised 
both a fleet and also a land force. The Persian captains had drawn'' 
their several detachments together and formed them into a single 
army; and had resolved to pass over all the other cities, which they 
regarded as of lesser account, and to march straight on Miletus. Of 
the naval states, Phoenicia showed the greatest zeal; but the fleet was 
composed likewise of the Cyprians (who had so lately been brought 
\mder), the Cilidans and also the Egyptians. 

While the Persians were thus making preparations against Miletus 
and Ionia, the lonians, informed of their intent, held a council upon 
the posture of their affairs. Hereat it was determined that no land 
force should be collected to oppose the Persians, but that the Mile- 
sians should be left to defend Aeir own walls as they could; at the 
same time they agreed that the whole naval force of the states, not 
excepting a single ship, should be equipped, and should muster at 
Lade, a small island lying off Miletus — to give battle on behalf of the 
place. Presently the lonians began to assemble in their ships. The 
fleet amounted in all to three hundred and fifty-three triremes. Such 
was the number on the Ionian side. 

On the side of the barbarians the number of vessels was six hun- 
dred. These assembled off the coast of Milesia,-while the land army 
collected upon the shore; but the leaders, learning the strength of the 
Ionian fleet, began to fear lest they might fail to defeat them, in 
which case, not having the mastery at sea, they would be unable to 
reduce Miletus, and might in consequence receive rou^ treatment 
at the hands of Darius. So when they thought of all these things, they 
resolved on the following course: calling together the Ionian t3^ants, 


Translated by George Rawlinson 
who had fled to the Medes for refuge when Aristagoras deposed them 
from their governments, and who were now in camp, having joined in 
the expedition against Miletus. The Persians addressed them thus: 
“Men of Ionia, now is the fit time to show your zeal for the house of 
the king. Use your best efforts, every one of you, to detach your fel- 
low countrymen from the general body. Hold forth to them the prom- 
ise that, if they submit, no harm shall happen to them on account of 
their rebellion; their temples shall not be burned, nor any of their 
private buildings; neither shall they be treated with greater harshness 
than before the outbreak. But if they refuse to yield, and determine 
to try the chance of a battle, threaten them with the fate which shau 
assuredly overtake them in that case. TeU them, when they are vanV 
quished in fight, they shall be enslaved; their boys shall be made 
eunuchs and their maidens transported to Bactria; while their country! 
shall be delivered into the hands of foreigners.” ' 

Thus spake the Persians. The Ionian tyrants sent accordingly by 
night to their respective citizens and reported the words of the Per- 
sians; but the people were all staunch and refused to betray their 
countrymen, those of each state thinking that they alone had had 
overtures made to them. Now these events happened on the first ap- 
pearance of the Persians before Miletus. 

Afterwards, while the Ionian fleet was still assembled at Lade, 
councils were held, and speeches made by various persons — among 
the rest by Dionysius, the Phocaean captain, who thus expressed him- 
self: “Our affairs hang on the razor’s edge, men of Ionia, either to be 
free or to be slaves; and slaves, too, who have shown themselves 
runaways. Now then you have to choose whether you will endure 
hardships, and so for the present lead a life of toil, but thereby gain 
ability to overcome your enemies and establish your own freedom; 
or whether you will persist in this slothfulness and disorder, in which 
case 1 see no hope of your escaping the king’s vengeance for your re- 
bellion. I beseech you, be persuaded by me and trust yourselves to 
my guidance. Then, if the gods only hold the balance fairly between 
us, I undertake to say that our foes will either decline a battle or, if 
they fight, suffer complete discomfiture.” 

These words prevailed with the lonians and forthwith they com- 
mitted themselves to Dionysius; whereupon he proceeded every 4ay to 
make the diips move in column, and the rowers ply their oars and 
Mercise themselves in breaking die line; while the marines were held 
under arms and the vessels were kept till evening fell uptm their an- 


The History of Herodotus 

chors so that the men had nothing but toil from morning to night. 
Seven days did the lonians continue obedient and do whatever he 
bade them; but on the eig|hth day, worn out by the hardness of the 
work and the heat of the sun, and quite unaccustomed to such fa* 
tigues, they began to confer together and to say to one another, 
“What god have we offended to bring upon ourselves such a punish- 
ment as this? Fools and distracted that we were, to put ourselves into 
the hands of this Phocaean braggart, who does but furnish three 
ships to the fleet! He, now that he has got us, plagues us in the most 
desperate fashion; many of us, in consequence, have fallen sick al- 
ready — many more expect to follow. We had better suffer anything 
rather than these har^hips; even the slavery with which we are 
threatened, however harsh, can be no worse than our present thrall- 
dom. Come, let us refuse him obedience.” So saying, they forthwith 
ceased to obey his orders and pitched their tents, as if they had been 
soldiers, upon the island, where they reposed under the shade all 
day and refused to go aboard the ships and train themselves. 

Now when the Samian captains perceived what was taking place, 
they were more inclined than before to accept the terms which 
Aeaces had been authorized by the Persians to offer them on condi- 
tion of their deserting from the confederacy. For they saw that all 
was disorder among the lonians, and they felt also that it was hope- 
less to contend with the power of the king; since if they defeated the 
fleet which had been sent against them, they knew that another 
would come five times as great. So they took advantage of the occa- 
sion which now offered, and as soon as ever they saw the lonians re- 
fuse to work, hastened gladly to provide for the safety of their temples 
and their properties. This Aeaces, who made the overtures to the 
Samians, had formerly been tyrant of Samos, but was ousted from his 
government by Aristagoras the Milesian, at the same time with the 
other tyrants of the lonians. 

The Phoenicians soon afterwards sailed to the attack; and the 
lonians likewise put themselves in line and went out to meet them. 
When they had now neared one another and joined battle, which 
of the lonians fought like brave men and which like cowards, I can- 
not declare with any certainty, for charges are brought on all sides; 
but the tale goes that the Samians, according to the agreement which 
they had made with Aeaces, hoisted sail, and quitting their post bore 
away for Samos, except eleven ^ps whose captains gave no hwd to 
the orders of the commanders, but remained and took part in the 


Translated by George Rawlinson 
battle. Tbe state of Samos, in consideration of this action, granted to 
these men, as an acknowledgment of their bravery, the honor of hav- 
ing their names and the names of their fathers inscribed upon a pillar 
which still stands in the market place. The Lesbians also, when they 
saw the Samians, who were drawn up next to them, be^ to flee, did 
the like themselves; and the example, once set, was followed by the 
greater number of the lonians. 

Of those who remained and fought, none were so rudely handled 
as the Chians, who displayed prodigies of valor and disdained to 
play the part of cowards. They fumishdcf to the common fleet o^e 
hundred ships, having each of them forty armed citizens and those 
picked men on board; and when they saw the greater portion of tae 
allies betraying the common cause, they for their part, scorning ip 
imitate the base conduct of these traitors, althou^ they were left 
almost alone and unsupported, a very few friends continuing to stana 
by them, notwithstanding went on with the fight, and ofttimes cut the 
line of the enemy, until at last, after they had taken very many of 
their adversaries’ ships, they ended by losing more than half of their 
own. Hereupon, with the remainder of their vessels, the Chians fled 
away to their own country. 

As for such of their ships as were damaged and disabled, these, 
being pursued by the enemy, made straight for Mycale, where the 
crews ran them ashore and abandoning them began their march 
along the continent. Happening in their way upon the territory of 
Ephesus, they essayed to cross it; but here a dire misfortune befell 
them. It was night, and the Ephesian women chanced to be engaged 
in celebrating the rite of Ceres — the previous calamity of the Chians 
had not been heard of — so when the Ephesians saw their country 
invaded by an armed band, they made no question of the newcomers 
being robbers who purposed to carry off their women; and accord- 
in^y they marched out against them in full force, and slew them all. 
Such were the misfortunes which befell those of Chios. 

Dionysius, the Phocaean, when he perceived that all was lost, hav- 
ing first captured three ships from the enemy, himself took to flight. 
He would not, however, return to Phocaea, which he well knew 
must fall again, like the rest of Ionia, under the Persian yoke; but 
straightway, as he was, he set sail for Phoenicia, and there sunk a 
number of merchantmen and gained a great boo^; after which he 
directed his course to Sicily, where he established himself as a corsair 


The History of Herodotus 

and plundered the Carthaginians and Tyrrhenians, but did no hami 
to the Greeks. 

The Persians, when they had vanquished the lonians in the sea 
fight, besieged Miletus both by land and sea, driving mines under the 
walls, and making use of every known device, until at length they 
took both the citadel and the town, sue years from the time when the 
revolt first broke out under Aristagoras. All the inhabitants of the 
city they reduced to slavery, and thus the event tallied with the an- 
nouncement which had been made by the oracle. 

For once upon a time, when the Argives had sent to Delphi to con- 
sult the god about the safety of their own city, a prophecy was given 
them, in which others besides themselves were interested; for while 
it bore in part upon the fortunes of Argos, it touched in a by-clause 
the fate of the men of Miletus. I shall set down the portion which con- 
cerned the Argives when I come to that part of my History, mention- 
ing at present only the passage in which the absent Milesians were 
spoken of. This passage was as follows: 

“Then shall thou, Miletus, so oft the contriver of evil. 

Be, thyself, to many a feast and an excellent booty; 

Then shall thy matrons wash the feet of long-haired masters; 
Others shall then possess our lov’d Didymian temple.’’ 

Such a fate now befell the Milesians; for the Persians, who wore 
their hair long, after killing most of the men, made the women and 
children slaves; and the sanctuary at Didyma, the oracle no less than 
the temple, was plundered and burned. 

Those of the Milesians whose lives were spared, being carried 
prisoners to Susa, received no ill treatment at the hands of King 
Darius, but were established by him in Ampe, a city on the shores of 
the Persian Gulf, near the spot where the Tigris flows into it. Miletus 
itself and the plain about the city were kept by the Persians for them- 

And now the Sybarites, after the loss of their city, failed duly to 
return the former kindness of the Milesians. For these last, when 
Sybaris was taken, made a great mourning, all of them, youths as 
well as men, shaving their heads; since Miletus and Sybaris were, of 
all the cities whereof we have any knowledge, the two most closely 
united to each other. The Athenians, on the other hand, showed 
themselves beyond measure afficted at the fall of Miletus, in many 


Translated by George Rawlinson 

ways expressing their sympathy, and especially by their treatment of 
Phiynichus. For when this poet brought out upon the stage his drama 
of the Capture of Miletus, the whole theater burst into tears; and the 
people sentenced him to pay a fine of a thousand drachmas, for re- 
calling to them their own misfortunes. They likewise made a law that 
no one should ever again exhibit that piece. 

Thus was Miletus bereft of its inhabitants. In Samos the people of 
the richer sort were much displeased with the doings of the captains, 
and the dealings they had had with the Medes; they therefore held a 
council, very shortly after the sea fight, and resolved that they would 
not remain to become the slaves of Aeaces and the Persians, but W 
fore the tyrant set foot in their country, would sail away and founa a 
colony in another land. Now it chanced that about this time the citi- 
zens of Messina in Sicily had sent ambassadors to the lonians and in- 
vited them to Kale-Acte, where they wished an Ionian city to bc 
founded. This place, Kale-Acte (or &e Fair Strand) as it is called, 
is in the country of the Sicilians, and is situated in the part of Sicily 
which looks toward the Tyrrhenian Sea. The offer thus made to aU 
the lonians was embraced only by the Samians, and by such of the 
Milesians as had contrived to effect their escape. 

Hereupon this is what ensued. The Samians on their voyage 
reached the country of Southern Calabria at a time when the Mes- 
sinans and their king Scythas were engaged in the siege of a Sicilian 
town which they hoped to take. Anaxilaus, tyrant of Reggio Calabria, 
who was on ill terms with Messina, knowing how matters stood, made 
application to the Samians, and persuaded them to give up the 
thought of Kale-Acte, the place to which they were bound, and to 
seize Messina itself, which was left without men. The Samians fol- 
lowed this counsel and possessed themselves of the town; which the 
Messinans no sooner heard than they hurried to the rescue, calling 
to their aid Hippocrates, tyrant of Gela, who was one of their allies. 
Hippocrates came with his army to their assistance; but on his arrival 
he seized Scythas, the king, who had just lost his city, and sent him 
away in chains, together with his brother, to the town of &iycus; af- 
ter which he came to an understanding with the Samians, exchanged 
oaths mth them, and agreed to betray the people of Messina. The 
reward of his treachery was to be one half of the goods and diattels, 
including slaves, which the town contained, and all that he could find 
in the open country. Upon this Hippocrates seized and bound the 
greater number of the Messinans as slaves; delivering, however, into 


The History of Herodotus 

the hands of the Slamians three hundred of the principal citizens to 
be slaughtered; but the Samians spared the lives of these persons. 

Scythas, the king, made his escape from Inycus and fled to Him- 
era; whence he passed into Asia and went up to the court of Darius. 
Darius thought him the most uprigjit of all the Greeks to whom he 
afforded a refuge; for with the king’s leave he paid a visit to Sicily, 
and thence returned back to Persia, where he lived in great comfort 
and died by a natural death at an advanced age. 

Thus did the Samians escape the yoke of the Medes and possess 
themselves without any trouble of Messina, a most beautiful city. At 
Samos itself the Phoenicians, after the flght which had Miletus for its 
prize was over, re-established Aeaces, upon his throne. This they 
did by the command of the Persians, who looked upon Aeaces as one 
who had rendered them a high service and therefore deserved well 
at their hands. They likewise spared the Samians, on account of 
the desertion of their vessels, and did not bum either their city or 
their temples, as they did those of the other rebels. Immediately after 
the fall of Miletus the Persians recovered Caria, bringing some of 
the cities over by force, while others submitted of their own accord. 

Meanwhile tidings of what had befallen Miletus reached His- 
tiaeus the Milesian, who was still at Byzantium, employed in inter- 
cepting the Ionian merchantmen as they issued from the Black Sea. 
Histiaeus had no sooner heard the news than he gave the Hellespont 
in charge to Bisaltes, and set sail for Chios. One of the Chian garri- 
sons which opposed him he engaged at a place caUed “The Hollows,” 
situated in the Chian territory, and of these he slaughtered a vast 
number; afterward, by the help of his Lesbians, he reduced all the 
rest of the Chians, who were weakened by their losses in the sea 
fight, Polichne, a city of Chios, serving him as headquarters. 

It mostly happens that there is some warning when great misfor- 
tunes are about to befall a state or nation; and so it was in this in- 
stance, for the Chians had previously had some strange tokens sent 
to them. A choir of a hundred of their youths had been ^spatched 
to Delphi; and of these only two had returned; the remaining ninety- 
eight having been carried off by a pestilence. Likewise, about the same 
time, and very shortly before the sea fight, the roof of a schoolhouse 
had faUen in upon a number of their boys, who were at lessons; and 
out of a hundred and twenty children Aere was but one left alive. 
Such were the signs which God sent to warn them. It was very 
shortly afterward that the sea fight happened, which brou^t the city 


Translated by George Rawlinson 
down up<m its knees; and after the sea fig^t came the attack of His- 
tiaeus and his Lesbians, to whom the Chians, weakened as they 
were, furnished an easy conquest. 

Histiaeus now led a numerous army, composed of lonians and 
Aeolians, against the island of Thasos, and had laid siege to the 
place when news arrived that the Phoenicians were about to quit 
Miletus and attack the other cities of Ionia. On hearing this, His- 
tiaeus raised the siege of Thasos, and hastened to Lesbos with all his 
forces. There his army was in great straits for want of food; where- 
upon Histiaeus left Lesbos and went across to the mainland, intend- 
ing to cut the crops which were growing in the plain of the Caicus, 
which belonged to Mysia. Now it chanced that a certain Persia 
named Harpagus was in these regions at the head of an army of no 
little strength. He, when Histiaeus landed, marched out to meet him 
and engaging with his forces destroyed the greater number of them 
and took Histiaeus himself prisoner. 

Histiaeus fell into the hands of the Persians in the following man- 
ner. The Greeks and Persians engaged at Malena, and the battle was 
for a long time stoutly contested, till at length the cavalry came up, 
and, charging the Greeks, decided the conflict. The Greeks fled; and 
Histiaeus, who thought that Darius would not punish his fault with 
death, showed how he loved his life by the following conduct. Over- 
taken in his flight by one of the Persians, who was about to run him 
through, he cried aloud in the Persian tongue that he was Histiaeus 
the Milesian. 

Now, had he been taken straightway before King Darius, I verily 
believe that he would have received no hurt, but the king would have 
freely forgiven him. Artaphemes, however, ruler of Sardis, and his 
captor Harpagus, on this very account — ^because they were afraid 
that, if he escaped, he would be again received into hig|i favor by the 
Icing — put him to death as soon as he arrived at Sardis. His body 
they impaled at that place, while they embalmed his head and sent 
it up to Susa to the king. Darius, when he learned what had taken 
place, fotmd great fault with the men engaged in this business for not 
bringing Histiaeus alive into his presence, and commanded his serv- 
ants to wash and dress the head with all care and then bury it, as the 
head of a man who had been a great benefactor to himself and the 
Persians. Such was the sequel of the history of Histiaeus. 

The naval armament of the Persians wintered at Miletus, and in 
the following year proceeded to attack the islands off the coast, Chios, 


The History of Herodotus 

Lesbos, and Tenedos, which were reduced without difficulty. When- 
ever they became masters of an island, the barbarians, in every sin- 
gle instance, netted the inhabitants. Now the mode in which they 
practice this netting is the following. Men join hands, so as to form a 
line across from the north coast to the south, and then march through 
the island from end to end and hunt out the inhabitants. In like man- 
ner the Persians took also the Ionian towns upon the mainland, not 
however netting the inhabitants, as it was not possible. 

And now their generals made good all the threats wherewith they 
had menaced the lonians before the battle. For no sooner did they get 
possession of the towns than they chose out all the best-favored boys 
and made them eunuchs, while the most beautiful of the girls they 
tore from their homes and sent as presents to the king, at the same 
time burning the cities themselves, with their temples. Thus were the 
lonians for the third time reduced to slavery; once by the Lydians, 
and a second and now a third time by the Persians. 

[The Persians, in 490 EC., continued to capture the Aegean islands 
and moved closer toward a conquest of the Greek mainlands Ath- 
ens was engaged in a pointless conflict with Aegina, a city fronting 
the Aegean Sea, but knew that King Darius arid the Persians were 
moving against Eretria on the island of Euboea,] 

Meanwhile the Eretrians, understanding that the Persian armament 
was coming against them, besought the Athenians for assistance. Nor 
did the Athenians refuse their aid, but assigned to them as auxiliaries 
four thousand landholders. At Eretria, however, things were in no 
healthy state; for though they had called in the aid of the Athenians, 
yet they were not agreed among themselves how they should act; 
some of them were minded to leave the city and to take refuge in the 
heights of Euboea, while others, who looked to receiving a reward 
from the Persians, were making ready to betray their country. So 
when these things came to the ears of Aeschines, one of the first men 
in Eretria, he made known the whole state of a&airs to the Athenians 
who were already arrived, and besought them to return home to their 
own land, and not perish with his countrymen. And the Athenians lis- 
tened to his counsel, and, crossing over to Oropus, in this way escaped 
the danger. 

The Persian fleet now drew near and anchored at three places in 
the territory of Eretria. Once masters of these posts, they proceeded 
forthwith to disembark their horses and made ready to attack the en- 


Translated by George Rawlinson 
emy. But the Eretrians were not minded to sally forth and offer battle; 
their only care, after it had been resolved not to quit the city, was, if 
possible, to defend their walls. And now the fortress was assaulted in 
good earnest, and for six days there fell on both sides vast numbers, 
but on the seventh day Euphorbus and Philagrus, who were both citi- 
zens of good repute, betrayed the place to the Persians. These had no 
sooner entered within the walls dian they plundered and burned all 
the temples that there were in the town, in revenge for the burning of 
their own temples at Sardis; moreover they did this according to the 
orders of Darius, and earned away all t6e' inhabitants. I 

The Persians, having thus brought Eretria into subjection after 
waiting a few days, made sail for Attica, greatly distressing the Athe- 
nians as they approached, and thinking to deal with them as they hi^d 
dealt with the people of Eretria. And, because there was no place ip 
all Attica so convenient for their horse as Marathon, and it lay mores 
over quite close to Eretria, therefore Hippias,* the son of Pisistratus, 
conducted them thither. 

When intelligence of this reached the Athenians, they likewise 
marched their troops to Marathon, and there stood on the defensive, 
having at their head ten generals, of whom one was Miltiades. 

Now this man’s father, Cimon, was banished from Athens by Pis- 
istratus. In his banishment it was his fortune to win the four-horse 
chariot race at Olympia, whereby he gained the very same honor 
which had before been carried off by Miltiades his half-brother on the 
mother’s side. At the next Olympiad he won the prize again with the 
same mares; upon which he caused Pisistratus to be proclaimed the 
winner, having made an agreement with him that, on yielding him 
this honor, he should be allowed to come back to his country. After- 
wards, still with the same mares, he won the prize a third time; where- 
upon he was put to death by the sons of Pisistratus, whose father was 
no longer living. They set men to lie in wait for him secretly; and these 
men slew him near the government house in the nighttime. He was 
buried outside the city, beyond what is called the Valley Road; and 
ri^t opposite his tomb were buried the mares which had won the 
three prizes. At the time of Qmon’s death Stesagoras, the elder of 
his two sons, was in the Qiersonese,t where he lived with Miltiades 
bis uncle; the younger, who was called Miltiades after the founder of 
the Chersonesite colony, was with his father in Athens. 

* The deposed Athenian tyrant whose cause had been espoused by the Persians 
t Oailipoli Peninsula, near the Hellespont 


The History of Herodotus 

It was this Miltiades who now commanded the Athenians, after 
escaping from the Chersonese, and twice nearly losing his life. First 
he was chased as far as the island of Imbros by the Phoenidans, 
who had a great desire to take him and carry him up to the king; and 
when he had avoided this danger, and, having reached his own coun- 
try, thought himself to be altogether in safety, he found his enemies 
waiting for him and was cited by them before a court and impeached 
for his tyranny in the Chersonese. But he came of! victorious here 
likewise and was thereupon made general of the Athenians by the free 
choice of the people. 

And first, before they left the city, the generals sent oS to Sparta a 
herald, one Pheidippides, who was by birth an Athenian and % pro- 
fession and practice a trained runner. This man, according to the ac- 
count which he gave to the Athenians on his return, when he was near 
Mount Parthenium, above Tegea, fell in with the god Pan, who called 
him by his name, and bade him ask the Athenians why they ne^ected 
him so entirely, when he was kindly disposed toward them, and had 
often helped them in times past and would do so again in time to 
come. The Athenians, entirely believing in the truth of this report, as 
soon as their affairs were once more in good order, set up a temple to 
Pan under the Acropolis, and, in return for the message which I have 
recorded, established in his honor yearly sacrifices and a torch race. 

On the occasion of which we speak, when Pheidippides was sent 
by the Athenian generals and, according to his own account, saw 
Pan on his journey, he reached Sparta on the very next day after quit- 
ting the city of Athens. Upon his arrival he went before the rulers and 
said to them: 

“Men of Sparta, the Athenians beseech you to hasten to their aid, 
and not allow that state, which is the most ancient in all Greece, to be 
enslaved by the barbarians. Eretria, look you, is already carried away 
captive; and Greece weakened by the loss of no mean city.” 

Thus did Pheidippides deliver the message committed to him. And 
the Spartans wished to help the Athenians, but were unable to give 
them any present succor, as they did not like to break their estab- 
lished law. It was then the ninth day of the month; and they could not 
march out of Sparta on the ninth, when the moon had not reached the 
full. So they waited for the full of the moon. 

The barbarians were conducted to Marathon by Hippas, the son 
of Piristratus, who the nig^t before had seen a strange vision in his 
sleep. He dreamed of lying in his mother’s arms and conjectured the 


Translated by George Rawlinson 
dream to mean that he would be restored to Athens, recover the 
power which he had lost, and afterwards live to a good old age in his 
native country. Such was the sense in which he interpreted the vision. 
He now proceeded to act as guide to the Persians; and, in the first 
place, he landed the prisoners taken from Eretria upon the island that 
is called Aegileia, after which he brought the fleet to anchor off Mara- 
thon and marshaled the bands of the barbarians as they disembarked. 
As he was thus employed it chanced that he sneezed and at the same 
time coughed with more violence than was hb wont. Now, as he was 
a man advanced in years, and the greatef number of his teeth were 
loose, it so happened that one of them was driven out with the force 
of the cough and fell down into the sand. Hippias took all the pams 
he could to find it; but the tooth was nowhere to be seen; whereupon 
he fetched a deep sigh and said to the bystanders: \ 

“After all, the land is not ours; and we shall never be able to brin^ 
it under. All my share in it is the portion of which my tooth has pos- 

So Hippias believed that in this way his dream was out. 

The AUienians were drawn up in order of battle in a sacred grove 
belonging to Hercules, when they were joined by the Plataeans, who 
came in full force to their aid. ^me time before, the Plataeans had 
put themselves under the rule of the Athenians; and these last had 
already undertaken many labors on their behalf. The occasion of the 
surrender was the following. The Plataeans suffered grievous things at 
the hands of the men of Thebes; so, as it chanced that Cleomenes and 
the Lacedaemonians were in their neighborhood, they first of all of- 
fered to surrender themselves to them. But the Lacedaemonians re- 
fused to receive them, and said: 

“We dwell too far off from you, and ours would be but chill succor. 
You might oftentimes be carried into slavery before one of us heard 
of it. We counsel you rather to give yourselves up to the Athenians, 
who are your next neighbors and well able to shelter you.” 

This they said, not so much out of good will toward the Plataeans 
as because they wished to involve the Athenians, in trouble by engag- 
ing them in wars with the Boeotians. The Plataeans, however, when 
the Lacedaemonians gave them this counsel, complied at once; and 
when the sacrifice to the Twelve Gods was being offered at Athens, 
they came and sat as suppliants about the altar and gave themselves 
up to the Athenians. The Thebans no sooner learned what the Ha- 
taeans had done than instantly they marched out against them, white 


The History of Herodotus 

the Athenians sent troops to their aid. As the two armies were about 
to join battle, the Corinthians, who chanced to be at hand, would not 
allow them to engage; both sides consented to take them for arbitra- 
tors, whereupon they made up the quarrel and fixed the boundary line 
between the two states upon this condition; that if any of the Boeoti- 
ans wished no longer to belong to Boeotia, the Thebans should allow 
them to follow their own inclinations. The Corinthians, when they had 
thus decreed, forthwith departed to their homes; the Athenians like- 
wise set off on their return; but the Boeotians fell upon them during 
the march, and a battle was fought wherein they were defeated by the 
Athenians. Hereupon these last would not be bound by the line which 
the Corinthians had fixed, but advanced beyond those limits, and 
made the Asopus River the boundary line between the country of the 
Thebans and that of the Plataeans. Under such circumstances did the 
Plataeans give themselves up to Athens; and now they had come to 
Marathon to bear the Athenians aid. 

The Athenian generals were divided in their opinions; and some 
advised not to risk a battle, because they were too few to engage such 
a host as that of the Persians, while others were for fighting at once; 
and among these last was MUtiades. He therefore, seeing that opin- 
ions were thus divided, and that the less worthy counsel appeared 
likely to prevafl, resolved to go to the polemarch,* and have a confer- 
ence with him. For the man on whom the lot fell to be polemarch at 
Athens was entitled to give his vote with the ten generals, since an- 
ciently the Athenians allowed him an equal right of voting with them. 
The polemarch at this juncture was Callimachus; to him therefore 
Miltiades went, and said: 

“With thee it rests, Callimachus, either to bring Athens to slavery 
or, by securing her freedom, to leave behind thee to all future genera- 
tions a memory beyond even Harmodius and Aristogeiton. For never 
since the time that the Athenians became a people were they in so 
great a danger as now. If they bow their necks ^neath the yoke of 
the Persians, the woes which they will have to suffer when ^ven into 
the power of Hippias are already determined on; if, on the other 
hand, they fi^t and overcome, Athens may rise to be the very first 
city in Greece. How it comes to pass that these things are likely to 
happen, and how the determining of them in some sort rests with thee, 
I will now proceed to make clear. We generals are ten in number and 
our votes are divided; half of us wish to engage, half to avoid a com- 
• Titular commander-in-chief 


Translated by George Rawlinson 
bat. Now, if we do not fight, I look to see a great disturbance at Athens 
whidi will shake men’s resolutions, and then I fear they wUl subnut 
themselves; but if we fight the battle before any unsoundness show 
itself among our citizens, let the gods but give us fair play, and we are 
well able to overcome the enemy. On thee therefore we depend in 
this matter, which lies wholly in thine own power. Thou hast only to 
add thy vote to my side and thy country will be free, and not free 
only, but the first state in Greece. Or, if thou preferrest to give thy 
vote to them who would decline the combat, then the reverse will 

MUtiades by these words gained Callimaqhps; and the addition of i 
the polemarch’s vote caused the decision to be in favor of fighting. ( 
Hereupon all those generals who had been desirous of hazarding a 
battle, when their turn came to command the army, gave up their 
right to Miltiades. He however, though he accepted their offers, 
waited and would not figbt until his own day of command arrived in 
due course. 

Then at length, when his own turn was come, the Athenian battle 
was set in array, and this was the order of it. Callimachus the pole- 
march led the right wing; for it was at that time a rule with the Athe- 
nians to give the right wing to the polemarch. After this followed the 
tribes, according as they were numbered, in an unbroken line; while 
last of all came the Plataeans, forming the left wing. And ever since 
that day it has been a custom with the Athenians, in the sacrifices 
and assemblies held each fifth year at Athens, for the Athenian herald 
to implore the blessing of the gods on the Plataeans conjointly with the 
A thenians . Now, as they marshaled the host upon the field of Mara- 
thon, in order that the Athenian front might be of equal length with 
the Persian, the ranks of the center were diminished, and it became the 
weakest part of the line, while the wings were both made strong with 
a depth of many ranks. 

So when the battle was set in array, and the victims showed them- 
selves favorable, instantly the Athenians, as soon as they were let go, 
charged the barbarians at a run. Now the distance between the two 
armies was little short of eight furlongs. The Persians, therefore, when 
they saw the Greeks coming on at speed, made ready to receive them, 
althou^ it seemed to them that the Athenians were bereft of their 
senses, and bent upon their own destruction; for they saw a mere 
handful of men coming on at a run without either horsemen or arch- 
ers. Such was the opinion of the barbarians; but the Athenians in 


The History of Herodotus 

.close array fell upon them, and fought in a manner worthy of being 
recorded. They were the first of the Greeks, as far as I know, who in- 
troduced the custom of charging the enemy at a run, and they were 
likewise the first who dared to look upon the Persian garb and to face 
mra clad in that fashion. Until this time the very name of the Persians 
had been a terror to the Greeks to hear. 

The two armies fought together on the plain of Marathon for a 
length of time; and in the mid-batde, where the Persians themselves 
and the Sacae had their place, the barbarians were victorious, and 
broke and pursued the Greeks into the inner country; but on the two 
wings the Athenians and the Plataeans defeated the enemy. Having 
so done, they suffered the routed barbarians to fly at their ease, and 
joining the two wings in one, fell upon those who had broken their 
own center, and fought and conquered them. These likewise fled, and 
now the Athenians hung upon the runaways and cut them down, 
chasing them all the way to the shore, on reaching which they l^d 
hold of the ships and called aloud for fire. 

It was in the struggle here that Callimachus the polemarch, after 
greatly distinguishing himself, lost his life', Stesilaus too, the son of 
Hirasilaus, one of the generals, was slain; and Cynae^rus, the son of 
Euphorion, having seized on a vessel of the enemy’s by the ornament 
at the stem, had his hand cut off by the blow of an ax, and so per- 
ished; as likewise did many other Athenians of note and name. 

Nevertheless the Athenians secured in this way seven of the vessels; 
while with the remainder the barbarians pushed off, and taking 
aboard their Eretrian prisoners from the island where they had left 
them, doubled Cape Sounion, hoping to reach Athens before the re- 
turn of the Athenians. The house of Alcmaeon were accused by their 
coimtrymen of suggesting this course to them; they had, it was said, an 
understanding wiA the Persians and made a signal to them by raising 
a shield after they were embarked in their ships. 

The Persians accordin^y sailed round Sounion. But the Athenians 
with all possible speed marched away to the defense of their city, and 
succeeded in reaching Athens before the appearance ot the bart)ari- 
ans; and as their camp at Marathon had been pitched in a precinct of 
Hercules, so now they encamped in another precinct of the same god. 
The barbarian fleet arrived, and lay to off Phaleram, which was at 
that time the haven of Athens; but after resting awhile upon their 
oars, they departed and sailed away to Asia. 

There fell in this battle of Marathon, on &e side of the baibarimu, 


Translated by George Rawlinson 
about six thousand and four hundred men; on that of the Athenians, 
one hundred and nine^-two. Such was the number of the slain on the 
one side and the other. A strange prodigy likewise happened at this 
fight. Epizelus, the son of Cuphagoras, an Athenian, was in the thick 
of the fray and behaving himself as a brave man should, when sud- 
denly he was stricken with blindness, without blow of sword or dart; 
and this blindness continued during the whole of his later life. The 
following is the account which he himself, as I have heard, gave of the 
matter: he said that a gigantic warrior with a huge beard, which 
shaded all his shield, stood over against him; but the ghostly sem- 
blance passed him by and slew the man at his side. Such, as I under- 
stand, was the tale which Epizelus told. 

The Persian general Datis meanwhile was on his way back to Asia 
and had reached the island of Myconus, when he saw in his sleep a 
vision. What it was is not known; but no sooner was day come than 
he caused strict search to be made throughout the whole fleet, and 
finding on board a Phoenician vessel an image of Apollo overlaid with 
gold, he inquired from where it had been taken, and learning to what 
temple it belonged, he took it with him in his own ship to the island 
of Delos, and placed it in the temple there, enjoining the Delians, who 
had now come back to their island, to restore the image to the Temple 
of Apollo at Thebes, which lies on the coast. Having left these injunc- 
tions, he sailed away; but the Delians failed to restore the statue; and 
it was not till twenty years afterwards that the Thebans, warned by an 
oracle, themselves brought it back. 

As for the Eretrians, whom Datis and Artaphemes had carried 
away captive, when the fleet reached Asia, they were taken up to 
Susa. Now Eiing Darius, before they were made his prisoners, nour- 
ished a fierce anger against these men for having injured him without 
provocation; but now that he saw them brought into his presence and 
become his subjects, he did them no other harm, but only settled them 
at one of his own stations in Cissia — a place called Ardericca — ^two 
hundred and ten furlongs from Susa, and forty from the well which 
yields produce of three different kinds. For from this well they get 
bitumen, salt and oil, procuring it in the way that I will now describe. 
They draw with a swipe and, instead of a bucket, make use of the 
half of a wineskin; with this the man dips, and after drawing, pours 
tho liquid into a reservoir, wherefrom it passes into another and there 
!diree different shapes. The salt and the bitumen forthwith col- 
1^^ and harden, while the oil is drawn off into casks. It is called by 


The History of Herodotus 

the Persians rhadinace, is black and has an unpleasant smelL Here 
then King Darias established the ^etrians; and here they continued 
to my time, and still spoke dieir old language. So thus it fared with the 

After the full of the moon two thousand Spartans came to Athens. 
So eager had they been to arrive in time that they took but three days 
to reach Attica from Sparta. They came, however, too late for the 
batde; yet, as they had a long^g to behold the Persians, they con- 
tinued their march to Marathon and there viewed the slain. Then, 
after giving the Athenians all praise for their achievement, they re- 
turned home. 

But it fills me with wonderment, and I can in no way believe the 
report that the house of Alcmaeon had an understanding with the 
Persians, and held them up a shield as a signal, wishing Athens to be 
brought under the yoke of the barbarians and of Hippias — ^the house 
of Alcmaeon, who have shown themselves at least as bitter haters of 
tyrants as was Callias. This Callias was the only person at Athens 
who, when the house of Pisistratus were driven out and their goods 
were exposed for sale by the vote of the people, had the courage to 
make purchases and likewise in many other ways to display the 
strongest hostility. 

Now the house of Alcmaeon fell not a bit short of this person in 
their hatred of tyrants, so that I am astonished at the charge made 
against them, and cannot bring myself to believe that they held up a 
shield; for they were men who had remained in exile during the 
whole time that the tyranny lasted, and they even contrived the trick 
by which the house of Pisistratus were deprived of their throne. In- 
deed I look upon them as the persons who in good truth gave Athens 
her freedom far more than Harmodius and Aristogeiton. For these 
last did but exasperate the other members of the house of Pisistratus 
by slaying Hipparchus, and were far from doing anything toward put- 
ting down the tyranny; whereas the house of Alcmaeon were mani- 
festly the actual deliverers of Athens, if at least it be true that the 
oracle was prevailed up<m by them to bid the Lacedaemonians set 
Athens free. 

But perhaps they were offended with the people of Athens; and 
therefore betrayed their country. Nay, but on &e contrary there were 
none of the Adienians who were held in such general esteem, or who 
were so laden with honors. So that it is not even reasonable to suppose 
that a shield was held up by them on this account. A shield was 


Translated by George Rawlinson 
shown, no doubt (that cannot be gainsaid) but who it was that 
showed it I cannot any further determine. 

Now the house of Alcmaeon were, even in days of yore, a family 
of note in Athens; Clisthenes, king of Sicyon, raised the family to still 
greater eminence among the Greeks. For this Clisthenes had a dau^- 
ter called Agarista whom he wished to marry to the best husband that 
he could find in the wholb of Greece. At the Olympic Games, there- 
fore, he caused a proclamation to be made to this effect. So all the 
Greeks who were proud of their merit or of their country flocked to 
Sicyon as suitors. 

Now when they had all come, and the day- appointed had arrived^ 
Clisthenes first of all inquired of each concerning his country and his 
family; after which he kept them with him a year, and made trial on 
their manly bearing, their temper, their accomplishments and their \ 
disposition, sometimes drawing them apart for converse, sometimes \ 
bringing them all together. Such as were still youths he took with him \ 
from time to time to the gymnasia; but the greatest trial of all was at 
the banquet table. During the whole period of their stay he lived with 
them as I have said; and, further, from first to last he entertained 
them sumptuously. Somehow or other the suitors who came from 
Athens pleased him the best of all; and of these Hippoclides was spe- 
cially in favor, on account of his manly bearing. 

When at length the day arrived which had been fixed for the es- 
pousals, and Clisthenes had to speak out and declare his choice, he 
first of all made a sacrifice of a hundred oxen and held a banquet, 
whereat he entertained aU the suitors and the whole people of Sicyon. 
After the feast was ended, the suitors vied with each other in music 
and in speaking on a given subject. Presently, as the drinking ad- 
vanced, Hippoclides, who quite dumbfounded the rest, called aloud 
to the flute player, and bade him strike up a dance; which the man 
did, and Hippoclides danced to it. And he fancied that he was danc- 
ing excellently well; but Clisthenes, who was observing him, began to 
doubt the whole business. Then Hippoclides, after a pause, told an at- 
tendant to bring in a table; and when it was brought, he mounted 
upon it and danced first of all some Spartan figures, then some Attic 
ones; after which he stood on his head upon thelable and began to 
toss his legs about. Clisthenes, notwithstanding that he now loathed 
Hij^>oclides for a son-in-law by reason of his dancing and his shame- 
lessness, still, as he wished to avoid an outbreak, had restrained him- 
sdf during the first and likewise during the second dance; when, how- 


The History of Herodotus 

ever, he saw him tossing his legs in the air, he could no longer contain 
himself, but cried out, “Son of Tisander, thou hast danced thy wife 
away!” “What does Hippodides care?” was the other’s answer. And 
hence this proverb arose. 

Then Clisthenes commanded silence and spoke thus before the as- 
sembled company; 

“Suitors of my daughter, well pleased am I with you all; and rig^t 
willingly, if it were possible, woidd I content you all. But seeing that 
I have but one dau^ter, I will present to each of you whom I must 
dismiss a talent of silver for the honor that you have done me in seek- 
ing to ally yourselves with my house and for your long absence from 
your homes. But my daughter Agarista 1 betroth to Megacles, son of 
Alcmaeon, according to the usage of Athens.” 

Thus ended the affair of the suitors and thus the house of 
Alcmaeon came to be famous throughout the whole of Greece. The 
issue of this marriage was the Clisthenes who made the tribes at 
Athens and set up the popular government. Megades had another' 
son, Hippocrates, who had a daughter named Agarista. She married 
Xanthippus and when she was with child by him, she had a dream 
wherein she fancied she was delivered of a lion; after which, within a 
few days, she bore the great Pericles. 


[After the defeat at Marathon in 490, Darius made massive prepay 
rations to renew the war, but he <Ued four years later. His son 
and successor, Xerxes, although at first inclined to drop the proj- 
ect, was urged to the war by Mardonius. A council of lea^ng 
noblemen was called.] 

W HEN THE MEN weic met, the king spoke thus to them: 

“Persians, I shall not the first to bring in among you a 
new custom — I shall but follow one which has come down to us 
from our forefathers. Never yet, as our old men assure me, has 
our race reposed itself, since the time when Cyrus overcame As- 
tyages, and so we Persians wrested the scepter from the Medes. 
Now in all this God guides us; and we, obeying his guidance, 
prosper greatly. What need have I to tell you of the deeds of Cyrus 


Translated by George Rawlinson 
and Cambyses and my own father Darius, how many nations they 
conquered and added to our dominions? You know ri^t well what 
great things they achieved. But for myself, I will say that, from the 
day on which I mounted the throne, I have not ceased to consider 
by what means I may rival those who have preceded me in this 
post of honor, and increase the power of Persia as much as any of 
them. And truly I have pondered upon this, until at last I have 
found out a way whereby we may at once win glory and likewise 
get possession of a land which is as large and as rich as our own — 
nay, which is even more varied in the fruits it bears — awhile at the 
same time we obtain satisfaction and revertge. For this cause I 
have now called you together, that I may make known to you what ^ 
I design to do. 

“My intent is to throw a bridge over the Hellespont and march 
an army through Europe against Greece, that thereby I may obtain 
vengeance from the Athenians for the wrongs committed by them 
against the Persians and against my father. Your own eyes saw the 
preparations of Darius against these men; but death came upon 
him and balked his hopes of revenge. In his behalf, therefore, and 
in behalf of all the Persians, I undertake the war and pledge myself 
not to rest till I have taken and burned Athens, which has dared, 
unprovoked, to injure me and my father. Long since they came to 
Asia with Aristagoras of Miletus, who was one of our slaves, and, 
entering Sardis, burned its temples and its sacred groves; again, 
more lately, when we made a landing upon their coast under Datis 
and Artaphernes, how roughly they handled us you do not need 
to be told. 

“For these reasons, therefore, I am bent upon this war; and I 
see likewise therewith united no few advantages. Once let us subdue 
this people and those neighbors of theirs and we shall extend the 
Persian territory as far as God’s heaven reaches. The sun will then 
shine on no land beyond our borders; for I will pass through Europe 
from one end to the other, and with your aid make of all the lands 
which it contains one country. For thus, if what I hear be true, 
affairs stand. The nations whereof I have sppken, once swept away, 
there is no city, no country left in all the world, which will venture 
so much as to withstand us in arms. By this course then we shall 
bring all mankind under our yoke, alike those who are guilty and 
those who are innocent of doing us wrong. 

“For yourselves, if you wish to please me, do as follows: When 


The History of Herchxitus 

I atmounce the time for the army to meet together, hasten to the 
muster with a good will, every one of you; and Liow that to the man 
who brings with him the most gallant array I will give the gifts which 
our people consider the most honorable. This then is what you have 
to do. But to show that I am not self-willed in this matter, I lay the 
business before you, and ^ve you full leave to speak your minds upon 
it openly.” 

Xerxes, having so spoken, held his peace. 

Whereupon Mardonius took the word and said: 

“Of a truth, my lord, thou dost surpass, not only all living Persians, 
but likewise those yet unborn. Most true and right is each word that 
thou hast now uttered; but best of all thy resolve not to let the lonians 
who live in Europe — a worthless crew — mock us any more. It were 
indeed a monstrous thing if, after conquering and enslaving the Sacae, 
the Indians, the Ethiopians, the Assyrians, and many other mighty 
nations, not for any wrong that they had done us, but only to increase, 
our empire, we should then allow Ae Greeks, who have done us such 
wanton injury, to escape our vengeance. What is it diat we fear in 
them? Not surely their numbers; not the greatness of their wealth. We 
know the manner of their battle; we know how weak their power is; 
already have we subdued their children who dwell in our country, the 
lonians, Aeolians and Dorians. I myself have had experience of 
these men when I marched against them by the orders of thy father; 
and though I went as far as Macedonia, and came but a little short of 
reaching Athens itself, yet not a soul ventured to come out against me 
to battle. 

“And yet, I am told, these very Greeks are wont to wage wars 
against one another in the most foolish way, through sheer perversity 
and doltishness. For no sooner is war proclaimed than they search out 
the smoothest and fairest plain that is to be found in all the land, and 
there they assemble and fight; whence it comes to pass that even the 
conquerors depart with great loss. I say nothing of the conquered, for 
they are destroyed altogether. Now surely, as they are all of one 
speech, they ought to interchange heralds and messengers and make 
up their differences by any means rather than battle; or, at the worst, 
if they must needs fight against one another, they ought to post them- 
selves as strongly as possible, and so try their quarrels. But, notwith- 
standing that they have so foolish a manner of warfare, yet these 
Greeks, when I led my army against them to the very borders of 
Macedonia, did not so much as think of offering me battle. 


Translated by George Rawlinson 

“Who then will dare, O king! to meet thee in arms, when thou 
comest with all Asia’s warriors at thy back, and with ^ her ships? 
For my part I do not believe the Greek people will be so foolhardy. 
Grant, however, that I am mistaken herein and that they are foolish 
enough to meet us in open fig^t; in that case they will learn that there 
are no such soldiers in the whole world as we. Nevertheless let us 
spare no pains; for nothing comes without trouble; but all that men 
acquire is got by taking pains.’’ 

When Mardonius had in this way softened the harsh speech of 
Xerxes, he too held his peace. 

The other Persians were silent; for all feared to raise their voice | 
against the plan proposed to them. But Artabanus, the son of Hystas-' 
pes and uncle of Xerxes, trusting to his relationship, was bold to 
speak: “O king!” he said, “it is impossible, if no more than one opin- 
ion is uttered, to make choice of the best: a man is forced then to 
follow whatever advice may have been given him; but if opposite 
speeches are delivered, then choice can be exercised. In like manner 
pure gold is not recognized by itself; but when we test it along with 
baser ore, we perceive which is the better. I counseled thy father, 
Darius, who was my own brother, not to attack the Scyths, a race of 
people who had no town in their whole land. He thought however to 
subdue those wandering tribes, and would not listen to me, but 
marched an army against them, and ere he returned home lost many 
of his bravest warriors. Thou art about, O king! to attack a people 
far superior to the Scyths, a people distinguished above others both 
by land and sea. ’Tis fit therefore that I should tell thee what danger 
thou incurrest hereby. 

“Thou sayest that thou wilt bridge the Hellespont, and lead thy 
troops throu^ Europe against Greece. Now suppose some disaster 
befall thee by land or sea, or by both. It may be even so; for the men 
are reputed valiant. Indeed one may measure their prowess from what 
they have already done; for when Datis and Artaphemes led their 
huge army against Attica, the Athenians singly defeated them. But 
grant they are not successful on both elements. Still, if they man their 
ships, and, defeating us by sea, sail to the Hellespont, and there de- 
stroy our bridge — ^that, sire, were a fearful hazard. 

“And here ’tis not by my own wit alone that I conjecture what will 
happen; but I remember how narrowly we escaped disaster once, 
when thy father, after throwing bridges over the Bosphorus and the 
Danube, marched against die Scythians, and they tried every sort of 


The History of Herodotus 

prayer to induce the lonians, who had diarge of the bridge over the 
Danube, to break the passage. On that day, if Histiaeus, the king o£ 
Miletus, had sided with the other princes and not set himself to op- 
pose their views, the empire of the Persians would have come to 
nought. Surely a dreadful diing is this even to hear said, that the king’s 
fortunes depended wholly on one man. 

“Think then no more of incurring so great a danger when no need 
presses, but follow the advice I tender. Break up this meeting, and 
when thou hast well considered the matter with thyself and settled 
what thou wilt do, declare to us thy resolve. I know not of aught in 
the world that so profits a man as taking good counsel with himself; 
for even if things fall out against one’s hopes, still one has counseled 
well, though fortune had made the counsel of none effect; whereas if 
a man counsels iU and luck follows, he has gotten a windfall, but his 
counsel is none the less silly. 

“Seest thou how God with his lightning smites always the bigger 
animals and will not suffer them to wax insolent, while those of a 
lesser bulk chafe him not? How likewise his bolts fall ever on the 
highest houses and the tallest trees? So plainly does he love to bring 
down everything that exalts itself. Thus ofttimes a mighty host is dis- 
comfited by a few men, when God in his jealousy sends fear or storm 
from heaven, and they perish in a way unworthy of them. For God 
allows no one to have high thoughts but himself. 

“Again, hurry always brings about disasters, from which huge suf- 
ferings are wont to arise; but in delay lie many advantages, not ap- 
parent (it may be) at first sight, but such as in course of time are 
seen of all. Such then is my counsel to thee, O king! 

“And thou, Mardonius, forbear to speak foolishly ctmcerning the 
Greeks, who are men that ought not to be lightly esteemed by us. For 
while thou revilest the Greeks, thou dost encourage the king to lead 
his own troops against them; and this, as it seems to me, is what thou 
art specially striving to accomplish. Heaven send thou succeed not to 
thy wish! For slander is of all evils the most terrible. In it two men do 
wrong, and one man has wrong done to him. The slanderer does 
wrong, in as much as he abuses a man behind his back; and the 
hearer, in as much as he believes what he has not searched into 
thoroughly. The man slandered in his absence suffers wrong at the 
hands of both: for one brings against him a false charge; and the 
other thinks him an evildoer. 

“If, however, it must needs be that we go to war with this people, 


Translated by George Rawlinson 
at least allow the king to abide at home in Persia. Then let thee and 
me both stake oar children on the issue, and do thou choose out thy 
men, and, taking with thee whatever number of troops thou likest, 
lead forth our armies to battle. If things go well for the king, as thou 
sayest they will, let me and my children be put to death; but if they 
faU out as I prophesy, let thy children suffer, and thyself too, if thou 
shall come back alive. But shouldest thou refuse this wager, and stiU 
resolve to march an army against Greece, sure 1 am that some of 
those whom thou leavest behind thee here will one day receive the sad 
tidings that Mardonius has brought a great disaster upon the Persian 
people and lies a prey to dogs and birds somewhere in the land of j 
the Athenians, or else in that of the Spartans; unless indeed thou 
shall have perished sooner by the way, experiencing in thy own per- 
son the might of those men on whom thou wouldest fain induce the 
king to make war.” 

Thus spoke Artabanus. But Xerxes, full of wrath, replied to him: 

“Artabanus, thou art my father’s brother — ^that shall save thee 
from receiving the due reward for thy silly words. One shame how- 
ever I wiU lay upon thee, coward and faint-hearted as thou art — thou 
shall not come with me to fight these Greeks, but shall tarry here 
with the women. Without thy aid I will accomplish all of which I 
spoke. For let me not be thought the child of Darius, the son of 
Hystaspes, the son of Arsames, the son of Ariaramnes, the son of 
Teispes, the son of Cyrus, the son of Cambyses, the son of Teispes, 
the son of Achaemenes, if I take not vengeance on the Athenians. 
Full well I know that, were we to remain at rest, yet would not they, 
but would most certainly invade our country, if at least it be right to 
judge from what they have already done; for, remember, it was they 
who fired Sardis and attacked Asia. So now retreat is on both sides 
impossible, and the choice lies between doing and suffering injury; 
either our empire must pass under the dominion of the Greeks, or 
their land become the prey of the Persians; for there is no middle 
course left in this quarrel. It is right then that we, who have in times 
past received wrong, should now avenge it, and that I should thereby 
discover what that great risk is which I run in marclmg against these 
men — ^men whom Pelops the Phrygian, a vassal of my forefathers, 
subdued so utterly, that to this day both the land and the people who 
dwell therein bear the name of the conquerorl” * 

Thus far did the speaking proceed. Afterwards evening fell; and 
* The southern part of the Greek Peninsula is called the Peloponnese. 


The History of Herodotus 

Xerxes began to find the advice of Artabanus greatly disquieted him. 
So he thought upon it during the night, and concluded at last that it 
was not for his advantage to lead an army into Greece. When he had 
thus made up his mind anew, he fell asleep. And now he saw in the 
night, as the Persians declare, a vision of this nature — ^he thought a 
tall and beautiful man stood over him and said, “Hast thou then 
changed thy mind, Persian, and wilt thou not lead forth thy host 
against the Greeks, after commanding the Persians to gather together 
their levies? Be sure thou doest not well to change; nor is there a man 
here who will approve thy conduct. The course that thou didst deter- 
mine on during the day; let that be followed.” After thus speaking the 
man seemed to Xerxes to fly away. 

Day dawned; and the king made no account of this dream, but 
called together the same Persians as before and spoke to them as 

“Men of Persia, forgive me if I alter the resolve to which I came 
so lately. Consider that I have not yet reached the full growth of my 
wisdom and that they who urge me to engage in this war leave me not 
to myself for a moment. When 1 heard the advice of Artabanus, my 
young blood suddenly boiled; and I spoke words against him little 
befitting his years; now however I confess my fault and am resolved to 
follow his counsel. Understand then that I have changed my intent 
with respect to carrying war into Greece and cease to trouble your- 

When they heard these words, the Persians were full of joy and, 
falling down at the feet of Xerxes, made obeisance to him. 

But when night came, again the same vision stood over Xerxes as 
he slept and said, “Son of Darius, it seems thou hast openly before aU 
the Persians renounced the expedition, making light of my words, as 
thou^ thou hadst not heard them spoken. Know therefore and be 
well assured, that unless thou go forth to the war, this thing shall hap- 
pen to thee — as thou art grown mighty and powerful in a short space, 
so likewise shalt thou within a little time be brought low indeed.” 

Then Xerxes, greatly frightened at the vision which he had seen, 
sprang from his couch and sent a messenger to caU Artabanus, who 
came at the summons, when Xerxes spoke to him in these words: 

“Artabanus, at the moment I acted foolishly when I gave thee ill 
words in return for thy good advice. However it was not long ere I 
repented and was convinced that thy counsel was such as I ought to 
follow. But I may not now act in this way, greatly as I desire to do so. 


Translated by George Rawlinson 
For ever since I repented and changed my mind a dream has haunted 
me, which disapproves my intentions and has now just gcme from me 
widi threats. Now if this dream is sent to me from God, and if it is 
indeed his will that our troops should march against Greece, thou too 
wilt have the same dream come to thee and receive the same com- 
mands as myself. And this will be most sure to happen, I think, if 
thou puttest on the dress which I am wont to wear, and then, after 
taking thy seat upon my throne, liest down to sleep on my bed.” 

Such were the words of Xerxes. Artabanus would not at first yield 
to the command of the king; for he deemed <hiinself unworthy to sit 
upon the royal throne. At last however he was forced to give way and 
did as Xerxes bade him; but first he spoke thus to the king: 

“To me, sire, it seems to matter little whether a man is wise him- 
self or willing to listen to such as give good advice. In thee truly are 
found both tempers; but the counsels of evil men lead thee astray; 
they are like the gales of wmd which vex the sea — else the most use- 
ful thing for man in the whole world — and suffer it not to follow the 
bent of its own nature. For myself, it irked me not so much to be 
reproached by thee, as to observe that when two courses were placed 
before the Persian people, one of a nature to increase their pride, the 
other to humble it by showing them how hurtful it is to allow one’s 
heart always to covet more than one at present possesses, thou 
madest choice of that which was the worse both for thyself and for the 

“Now thou sayest that from the time when thou didst approve the 
better course and give up the thought of warring against Greece, a 
dream has haunted thee, sent by some god or other, which will not 
suffer thee to lay aside the expe^tion. But such things, my son, have 
in truth nothing divine in them. The dreams that wander to and fro 
among mankind, I will tell thee of what nature they are — who have 
seen so many more years than thou. Whatever a man has been 
thinking of during the day is wont to hover around him in the visions 
of his dreams at ni^t. Now we during these many days past have 
had our hands full of this enterprise. 

“If however the matter be not as I suppose, but God has indeed 
some part therein, thou hast in brief declared the whole that can be 
said concerning it — ^let it even appear to me as it has to thee, and lay 
on me the same injunctions. But it ought not to appear to me any 
more if I put on thy clothes than if I wear my own, nor if I go to sleep 
in thy bed than if I do so in mine — supposing, I mean, that it is about 


The History of Herodotus 

to appear at all. For this thing, be it what it may, that visits thee in 
thy sleep, surely is not so far gone in folly as to see me, and because I 
am dressed in thy clothes, straightway to mistake me for thee. Now 
however our business is to see if it wiU regard me as of small account 
and not vouchsafe to appear to me, whether I wear my own clothes 
or thine, while it keeps on haunting thee continually. If it does so and 
appears often, 1 should myself say that it was from God. For the 
rest, if thy mind is fixed, and it is not possible to turn thee from thy 
design, but I must needs go and sleep in thy bed, well and good, let 
it be even so; and when I have done as thou wishest, then let the 
dream appear to me. Till such time, however, I shall keep to my for- 
mer opinion.” 

Thus spoke Artabanus; and, thinking to show Xerxes that his 
words were nougjht, he did according to his orders. Having put on the 
garments which Xerxes was wont to wear and taken his seat upon the 
royal throne, he lay down to sleep upon the king’s own bed. As he 
slept, there appeared to him the very same dream which had been 
seen by Xerxes; it came and stood over Artabanus and said: 

“Thou art the man, then, who, feigning to be tender of Xerxes, 
seekest to dissuade him from leading his armies against the Greeks! 
But thou Shalt not escape unscathed, either now or in time to come, 
because thou hast sought to prevent that which is fated to happen. 
As for Xerxes, it had been plainly told to himself what will befall 
him, if he refuses to perform my bidding.” 

In such words, as Artabanus thou^t, the vision threatened him 
and then endeavored to bum out his eyes with red-hot irons. At this 
he shrieked and, leaping from his couch, hurried to Xerxes and, sitting 
down at his side, gave him a full account of the vision; after which he 
went on to speak in the words which follow: 

“I, O King! am a man who have seen many mighty empires over- 
thrown by weaker ones; and therefore it was that I sought to hinder 
thee from being quite carried away by thy youth; since I knew how 
evil a thing it is to covet more than one possesses. I could remember 
the expedition of Cyrus against the Massagetae, and wbat was the 
issue of it; I could recollect the march of Cambyses against the 
Ethiops; I had taken part in the attack of Darius upon the Scyths; 
bearing therefore all these thin^ in mind, I thou^t with myself that 
if thou shouldst remain at peace, all men would deem thee fortunate. 
But as this impulse has plainly come from above, and a heaven-sent 
destruction seems about to overtake the Greeks, behold, I chan^ to 


Translated by George Rawlinson 
another mind and alter my thoughts upon the matter. Do thou there- 
fore make known to the Persians what the god has declared, and bid 
them foOow the orders which were first given and prepare their levies. 
Be careful to act so that the bounty of the god may not be hindered 
by slackness on thy part.” 

Thus spoke these two together; and Xerxes, being in good heart on 
account of the vision, when day broke, laid all before the Persians; 
while Artabanus, who had formerly been the only person openly to 
oppose the expe^tion, now showed as openly that he favored it. 

After Xerxes had thus determined to go fordi to the war, there ap- 
peared to him in his sleep yet a third vision. The Magi were con- 
sulted upon it, and said that its meaning reached to the whole earth, 
and that all mankind would become his servants. Now the vision 
which the king saw was this: he dreamed that he was crowned with a 
branch of an olive tree and that boughs spread out from the olive 
branch and covered the whole earth; then suddenly the garland, as 
it lay upon his brow, vanished. So when the Magi had thus inter- 
preted Ae vision, straightway all the Persians who had come to- 
gether departed to their several governments, where each displayed 
the greatest zeal, on the faith of the king’s offers. For all hoped to 
obtain for themselves the gifts which had been promised. And so 
Xerxes gathered together his host, ransacking every comer of the 

Reckoning from the recovery of Egypt, Xerxes spent four full years 
in collecting his host and making ready aU things that were needful 
for his soldiers. It was not till the close of the fifth year that he set 
forth on his march, accompanied by a mighty multitude. For of all 
the armaments whereof any mention has reached us, this was by far 
the greatest; in so much that no other expedition compared to this 
seems of any account, neither that which Darius undertook against 
the Scythians, nor the expedition of the Scythians (which the attack 
of Darius was designed to avenge) when they, being in pursuit of the 
Cimmerians, fell upon the Median territory and subdued and held 
for a time almost the whole of Upper Asia; nor, again, that of the 
house of Atreus against Troy, of which we hear in story *: nor that 
of the Mysians and Teucrians, which was still earlier, wherein these 
nations crossed the Bosphoras into Europe, and, after conquering all 
Thrace, pressed forward till they came to the Ionian sea, while south- 
ward they reached as far as the River Peneus. 

* The Trojan War in the IHad 


The History of Herodotus 

All these expeditions and others, if such there were, are as noth- 
ing compared with this. For was there a nation in all Asia which 
Xerxes did not bring with him against Greece? Or was there a river, 
except those of unusual size, which sufficed for his troops to drink? 
One nation furnished ships; another was arrayed among the foot 
soldiers; a third had to supply horses; a fourth, transports for the 
horse and men likewise for the transport service; a fifth, ships of war 
toward the bridges; a sixth, ships and provisions. 

\Xerxe^ engineers threw a cable bridge across the Hellespont, but 

the first work was destroyed by a storm.l 

So when Xerxes heard of it he was full of wrath, and straightway 
gave orders that the Hellespont should receive three hundred lashes, 
and that a pair of fetters should be cast into it. Nay, I have even 
heard it said that he bade the branders take their irons and there- 
with brand the Hellespont. It is certain that he commanded those 
who scourged the waters to utter, as they lashed them, these bar- 
barian and wicked words: “Thou bitter water, thy lord lays on thee 
this punishment because thou hast wronged him without a cause, hav- 
ing suffered no evil at his hands. Verily King Xerxes will cross thee, 
whether thou wilt or not. Well dost thou deserve that no man should 
honor thee with sacrifice; for thou art of a truth a treacherous and 
unsavory river.” While the sea was thus punished by his orders, he 
likewise commanded that the overseers of the work should lose ffieir 

Then they, whose business it was, executed the unpleasing task 
laid upon them; and other master builders were set over the work, 
who accomplished it in the way which I will now describe. 

They joined together triremes and penteconters, 360 to support the 
bridge on the side of the Black Sea, and 314 to sustain the other; and 
these they placed at right angles to the sea, and in the direction of 
the current of the Hellespont, relieving by these means the tension of 
the shore cables. Having joined the vessels, they moored them with 
anchors of unusual size, that the vessels of the bridge toward the 
Black Sea might resist the winds which blow from within the straits, 
and that those of the more western bridge facing the Aegean might 
withstand the winds which set in from the south and from the south- 
east. A gap was left in the penteconters in no fewer than three places 
to afford a passage for such ligjit craft as chose to enter or leave the 
Black Sea. When all ffiis was done, they made the cables taut from the 


Translated by George Rawlinson 
shore by the help of wooden capstans. This time, moreover, instead 
of using the two materials separately, they assigned to each bridge 
six cables, two of which were of white flax, while four were of papy- 
rus. Both cables were of the same size and quality; but the flaxen 
were the heavier, weiring not less than a talent the cubit When the 
bridge across the channel was thus complete, trunks of trees were 
sawed into planks, which were cut to the width of the bridge, and 
these were laid side by side upon the tightened cables and then fas- 
tened on the top. This done, brushwood was brought and arranged 
upon the planks, after which earth was heaped upon the brushwood, ^ 
and the whole trodden down into a solid mass. Lastly a bulwark was 
set up on either side of this causeway, of such a height as to prevent 
the beasts and the horses from seeing over it and taking fright at the 

Arriving here, Xerxes wished to look upon aU his host; so as there 
was a throne of white marble upon a hill near the city, which they of 
Abydos had prepared beforehand, by the king’s bidding, for his 
special use, Xerxes took his seat on it, and, gazing thence upon the 
shore below, beheld at one view all his land forces and all his ships. 
While thus employed, he felt a desire to behold a sailing match among 
his ships, which accordingly took place and was won by the Phoeni- 
cians of Sidon, much to the joy of Xerxes, who was delighted alike 
with the race and with his army. 

And now, as he looked and saw the whole Hellespont covered 
with the vessels of his fleet, and all the shore and every plain about 
Abydos as full as possible of men, Xerxes congratulated himself on 
his good fortune; but after a little while he wept. 

Then Artabanus, the king’s uncle (the same who at the first so 
freely spoke his mind to the king, and advised him not to lead his 
umy against Greece), when he heard that Xerxes was in tears, 
went to him and said: 

*‘How different, sire, is what thou art now doing, from what thou 
didst a little while ago! Then thou didst congratulate thyself; and now, 
behold! thou weepest.” - 

“There came upon me,” replied he, “a sudden pity, when I 
thougiht of the shortness of man’s life and considered t^t of all this 
host, so numerous as it is, not one will be alive when a hundred years 
are gone by.” 

“And yet there are sadder things in life than that,” returned the 
other. “Short as our time is, there is no man, whether it be here among 


The History of Herodotus 

this multitude or elsewhere, who is so happy as not to have felt the 
wish — I will not say once, but full many a time— that he were dead 
rather than alive. Calamities fall upon us; sicknesses vex and harass 
us, and make life, short though it be, to appear long. So death, 
through the wretchedness of our life, is a most sweet refuge to our 
race; and God, who gives us the tastes that we enjoy of pleasant times, 
is seen in his very ^ft to be envious.” 

“True,” said Xerxes; “human life is even such as thou hast painted 
it, O Artabanus! But for this very reason let us turn our thoughts from 
it, and not dwell on what is so sad, when pleasant things are at hand. 
Tell me rather, if the vision which we saw had not appeared so plainly 
to thyself, wouldst thou have been still of the same mind as formerly, 
and have continued to dissuade me from warring against Greece, or 
wouldst thou at this time think differently? Come now, tell me this 

“O l^g!” replied the other, “may the dream which hath appeared 
to us have such issue as we both desire! For my own part, I am still 
full of fear and have scarcely power to control myself, when 1 con- 
sider all our dangers, and especially when 1 see ^at the two things 
which are of most consequence are alike opposed to thee.” 

“Thou strange man!” said Xerxes in reply. “What, I pray thee, are 
the two things thou speakest of? Does my land army seem to thee 
too small in number, and will the Greeks, thinkest thou, bring into 
the field a more numerous host? Or is it our fleet which thou deemest 
weaker than theirs? Or art thou fearful on both accounts? If in thy 
judgment we fall short in either respect, it were easy to bring together 
with all speed another armament.” 

“O king!” said Artabanus, “it is not possible that a man of un- 
derstanding should find fault with the size of thy army or the number 
of thy ships. The more thou addest to these, the more hostile will 
those two things, whereof I spoke, become. Those two things are the 
land and the sea. In all the wide sea there is not, I imagine, any- 
where a harbor large enough to receive thy vessels, in case a storm 
arise, and afford them a sure protection. And yet thou wilt want, not 
one such harbor only, but many in succession, along the entire coast 
by which thou art about to make thy advance. In default then of such 
harbors, it is well to bear in mind that chances rule men, and not men 
chances. Such is the first of the two dangers; and now I will speak to 
thee of the second. The land will also be thine memy; for if no one 
resists thy advance, as thou proceedest further and further, insensibly 


Translated by George Rawlinson 
allured onward (for who is ever sated with success?), thou wilt find 
it more and more hostile. I mean this, that, should nothing else with- 
stand thee, yet the mere distance, becoming greater as time goes on, 
will at last produce a famine. I think it is best for men, when they 
take counsel, to be timorous and imagine all possible calamities, but 
when the time for action comes, then to deal boldly.” 

Whereto Xerxes answered: “There is reason, O Artabanus! in 
everything which thou hast said; but I pray thee, fear not all things 
alike, nor count up every risk. For if in each matter that comes be- 
fore us thou wilt look to all possible chances,> never wilt thou achieve 
anything. Far better is it to have a stout heart always and suffer 
one’s share of evils than to be ever fearing what may happen and 
never incur a mischance. Moreover, if thou wilt oppose whatever is 
said by others without thyself showing us the sure course which we 
ought to take, thou art as likely to lead us into failure as they who 
advise differently; for thou art but on a par with them. And as for 
that sure course, how canst thou show it us when thou art but a man? 
I do not believe thou canst. Success for the most part attends those 
who act boldly, not those who weigh everything and are slack to 
venture. Thou seest to how great a height the power of Persia has 
now reached — ^never would it have grown to this point if they who sat 
upon the throne before me had been minded like thee, or even, 
though not like-minded, had listened to councilors of such a spirit. 
’Twas by brave ventures that they extended their sway; for great 
empires can only be conquered by great risks. We follow then the 
example of our fathers in making this march; and we set forward at 
the best season of the year; so, when we have brought Europe under 
us, we shall return, without suffering from want or experiencing any 
other calamity. For while on the one hand we carry vast stores of 
provisions with os, on the other we shall have the grain of all the 
countries and nations that we attack; since our march is not directed 
against a pastoral people, but against men who are tillers of the 

Then said Artabanus: “If, sir, thou art determined that we shall 
not fear anything, at least listen to a counsel which I wish to offer; for 
when the matters at hand are so many, one cannot but have much to 
say. Thou knowest that Cyrus reduced and made tributary to the 
Persians all tiie race of the lonians, except only those of Attica. Now 
my advice is that thou on no account lead forth these men against 
their fathers, since we are weU able to overcome them without such 


The History of Herodotus 

aid. Their choice, if we take them with us to the war, lies between 
showing themselves the most wicked of men by helping to enslave 
their fatherland or the most righteous by joining in the struggle to 
keep it free. If then they choose the side of injustice, they will do us 
but scant good; while if they determine to act justly, they may greatly 
injure our host. Lay thou to heart the old proverb, which says truly, 
‘The beginning and end of a matter are not always seen at once.’ ” 

“Artabanus,” answered Xerxes, “there is nothing in all that thou 
hast said wherein thou art so wholly wrong as in this, that thou sus- 
pectest the faith of the lonians. Have they not given us the surest 
proof of their attachment — a proof which thou didst thyself witness 
and likewise all those who fought with Darius against the Scythians? 
When it lay wholly with them to save or to destroy the entire Persian 
army, they dealt by us honorably and with good faith, and did us no 
hurt at all. Besides, they will leave behind them in our country their 
wives, their children and their properties — can it then be conceived 
that they will attempt rebellion? Have no fear, therefore, on this 
score; but keep a brave heart and uphold my house and empire. To 
thee, and thee only, do I intrust my sovereignty.” 

After Xerxes had thus spoken and had sent Artabanus away to 
return to Susa, he summoned before him all the Persians of most re- 
pute, and when they appeared, addressed them in these words: 

“Persians, I have brought you together because I wished to exhort 
you to behave bravely, and not to sully with disgrace the former 
achievements of the Persian people, wldch are very great and fa- 
mous. Rather let us one and all, singjly and jointly, exert ourselves 
to the utmost; for the matter wherein we are engaged concerns the 
common weal. Strain every nerve, then, I beseech you, in this war. 
Brave warriors are the men we march against, if report says true; 
and such that, if we conquer them, there is not a people in all the 
world which will venture thereafter to withstand our arms. And now 
let us offer prayers to the gods who watch over the welfare of Persia, 
and then cross the channel.” 

All that day the preparations for the passage continued; and on the 
morrow they burned all kinds of spices upon the bridges and strewed 
the way with myrtle bou^s, while they waited anxiously for the sim, 
which they hoped to see as he rose. And now the sun appeared; and 
Xerxes took a golden goblet and poured from it a libation into the 
sea, praying the while with his face turned to the sun, that no misfor- 
tune might befall him such as to hinder his conquest of Europe, until 


Translated by George Rawlinson 
he had penetrated to its farthest boundaries. After he had prayed, he 
cast the golden cup into the Hellespont, and with it a golden bowl 
and a Persian sword of the kind which they call acinaces. I cannot 
say for certain whether it was as an offering to the sun god that he 
threw these things into the deep, or whether he had repented of hav- 
ing scourged the Hellespont and thought by his gifts to make amends 
to the sea for what he had done. 

When, however, his offerings were made, the army began to cross; 
and the foot soldiers, with the horsemen, passed over by one of the 
bridges — ^that (namely) which lay toward the-Black Sea — ^while the 
beasts and the camp followers passed by the other, which looked on 
the Aegean. Foremost went the Ten Thousand Persians, aU wearing 
garlands upon their heads; and after them a mixed multitude of many 
nations. These crossed upon the first day. 

On the next day the horsemen began the passage; and with them 
went the soldiers who carried their spears with the point downward, 
garlanded, like the Ten Thousand; then came the sacred horses and 
Ae sacred chariot; next Xerxes with his lancers and the thousand 
horse; then the rest of the army. At the same time the ships sailed 
over to the opposite shore. According, however, to another account 
which I have heard, the king crossed last. 

As soon as Xerxes had reached the European side, he stood to con- 
template his army as they crossed under ^e lash. And the crossing 
continued during seven days and seven nights, without rest or pause. 
It is said that here, after Xerxes had made the passage, a Hellespon- 
tian exclaimed: 

“Why, O Jove, dost thou, in the likeness of a Persian man, and 
with the name of Xerxes instead of thine own, lead the whole race of 
mankind to the destruction of Greece? It would have been as easy for 
thee to destroy it without their aid!” 

What the exact number of the troops of each nation was I cannot 
say with certainty — ^for it is not mentioned by anyone — ^but the whole 
land army together was found to amount to one million seven hun- 
dred thousand men. The manner in which the numbering took place 
was the following. A body of ten thousand men was brought to a 
certain place, and the men were made to stand as close together as 
possible; after which a circle was drawn around them, and the men 
were let go; then where the circle had been, a fence was built about 
the height of a man’s middle; and the enclosure was filled continually 
with fresh troops, till the whole army had in this way been numbered. 


The History of Herodotus 

When the numbering was over, the troops were drawn up according 
to their several nations. 

{Herodotus gives an elaborate catalogue of the army by national- 
ity, with their various commanders.] 

Over the commanders themselves and over the whole of the infan- 
try, there were set six generals — ^namely, Mardonius; Tritantaechmes, 
son of the Artabanus who gave his advice against the war with 
Greece; Smerdomenes, son of Otanes — ^these two were the sons of 
Darius’ brothers, and thus were cousins of Xerxes; Masistes, son of 
Darius and Atossa; Gergis and Megabyzus. 

The whole of the infantry was under the command of these gen- 
erals, excepting the Ten Thousand. The Ten Thousand, who were 
all Persians and all picked men, were led by Hydames. They were 
called “The Immortals” for the following reason. If one of their body, 
failed either by the stroke of death or of disease, forthwith his place 
was filled up by another man, so that their number was at no time 
either greater or less than 10,000. 

Of all the troops the Persians were adorned with the greatest mag- 
nificence, and they were likewise the most valiant. Besides their arms, 
which have been already described, they glittered all over with gold, 
vast quantities of which they wore about their persons. They were 
followed by litters, wherein rode their concubines and by a numerous 
train of attendants handsomely dressed. Camels and beasts carried 
their provision, apart from that of the other soldiers. 

Now when the numbering and marshaling of the host was ended, 
Xerxes conceived a wish to go himself throughout the forces and with 
his own eyes behold everything. Accordingly he traversed the ranks 
seated in his chariot and, going from nation to nation, made manifold 
inquiries, while his scribes wrote down the answers; till at last he had 
passed from end to end of the whole land army, both the horsemen 
and likewise the foot. This done, he exchanged his chariot for a galley 
and, seated beneath a golden awning, sailed along the prows of all 
his vessels (the vessels having now been hauled down and launched 
into the sea), while he made inquiries again, as he had done when he 
reviewed the land force, and caused the answers to be recorded by 
his scribes. The captains took their ships to the distance of about four 
hundred feet from the shore, mid there lay to, with their vessels in a 
single row, the prows facing the land, and with the fighting men upon 
the decks accoutered as if for war, while the king sailed along in the 


Translated by George Rawlinson 
open space between the ships and the shore, and so reviewed the 

Now after Xerxes had sailed down the whole line and had gone 
ashore, he sent for Demaratus, who had accompanied him in his 
march upon Greece, and spoke to him thus: 

“Demaratus, it is my pleasure at this time to ask thee certain 
things which I wish to know. Thou art a Greek and, as I hear from 
the other Greeks with whom I converse, no less than from thine own 
lips, thou art a native of a city which is not the meanest or the weak- 
est in their land. Tell me, therefore, what thinkest thou? Will the 
Greeks lift a hand against us? My own judgment is that even if all 
the Greeks and all the barbarians of the West were gathered to- 
gether in one place, they would not be able to abide my onset, not 
teing really of one mind. But I would fain know what thou thinkest 

Thus Xerxes questioned; and the other replied in his turn, “O king! 
is it thy will that 1 give thee a true answer, or dost thou wish for a 
pleasant one?” 

Then the king bade him speak the plain truth and promised that 
he would not on that account hold him in less favor than before. 

So Demaratus, when he heard the promise, spoke as follows: 

“O king! since thou biddest me at all risks speak the truth, and not 
say what will one day prove me to have lied to thee, thus I answer. 
Want has at all times been a fellow dweller with us in our land, 
while Valor is an ally whom we have gained by dint of wisdom and 
strict laws. Her aid enables us to drive out want and escape thrall- 
dom. Brave are all the Greeks who dwell in any Dorian land; but 
what I am about to say does not concern all, but only the Lacedae- 
monians. First then, come what may, they will never accept thy 
terms, which would reduce Greece to slavery; and further, they are 
sure to join battle with thee, though all the rest of the Greeks should 
submit to thy will. As for their numbers, do not ask how many they 
are, that their resistance should be a possible thing; for if a thousand 
of them should take the field, they will meet thee in battle, and so 
will any number, be it less than this or be it more.” 

When Xerxes heard this answer of Demaratus, he laughed and 

“What wild words, Demaratus! A thousand men join battle with 
such an army as this! Come then, wilt thou — ^who wert once, as thou 
sayest, their king — engage to fight this very day with ten men? I 


The History of Herodotus 

think not. And yet, if all thy fellow cidzens be indeed such as thou 
sayest they are, thou oughtest, as their king, by thine own country’s 
usages, to be ready to fight with twice the number. If then each one 
of them be a match for ten of my soldiers, I may well call upon thee 
to be a match for twenty. So wouldest thou assure the truth of what 
thou hast now said. If, however, you Greeks, who vaunt yourselves 
so much, are of a truth men like those whom I have seen about my 
court, as thyself, Demaratus, and the others with whom I am wont to 
converse — if, I say, you are really men of this sort and size, how is 
the speech that thou hast uttered more than a mere empty boast? 
For, to go to the very verge of likelihood — how could a thousand 
men, or ten thousand, or even fifty thousand, particularly if they 
were all alike free, and not under one lord — ^how could such a force, 

I say, stand against an army like mine? Let them be five thousand, 
and we shall have more than a thousand men to each one of theirs. . 
If, indeed, like our troops, they had a single master, their fear of him 
might make them courageous beyond their natural bent; or they 
might be urged by lashes against an enemy which far outnumbered 
them. But left to their own free choice, assuredly they will act differ- 
ently. For my own part, I believe that if the Greeks had to contend 
with the Persians only, and the numbers were equal on both sides, 
the Greeks would find it hard to stand their ground. We too have 
among us such men as those of whom thou spokest — ^not many in- 
deed, but still we possess a few. For instance, some of my bodyguard 
would be willing to engage singly with three Greeks. But this thou 
didst not know; and therefore it was thou talked so foolishly.” 

Demaratus answered him, “I knew, O king! at the outset that if 
I told thee the truth, my speech would displease thine ears. But as 
thou didst require me to answer thee with all possible truthfulness, I 
informed thee what the Spartans will do. And in this I spoke not from 
any love that I bear them — ^for none knows better than thou what 
my love toward them is likely to be at the present time, when they 
have robbed me of my rank and my ancestral honors, and made me 
a homeless exile, whom thy father did receive, bestowing on me both 
shelter and sustenance. What likelihood is there that a man of under- 
standing should be unthankful for kindness shown him, and not 
cherish it in his heart? For mine own self, I pretend not to cope with 
ten men, nor with two — nay, had I the choice, I would rather not 
fight even with one. But, if need appeared, or if there were any great, 
cause urging me on, I would contend with right good will against one 


Translated by George Rawlinson 

of IhoK per.™ who boast thOTselves a mail* tor aajf tbM 

So litewto tho ijrartaos, wim they hght siojly, are as *o^ <t>« as 
«.y m the world, and when they fight in a body, ate the brarat of 
all. For though they be free men, they are not in all respects free. 
Law is the master whom they own; and this master they fear more 
than thy subjects fear thee. Whatever he commands they do; and his 
commandment is always the same: it forbids them to flee in battle, 
whatever the number of their foes, and requires them to stand firm, 
and either to conquer or die. If in these words, O king! I seem to thee 
to speak foolishly, I am content from this time forward evermore to 
hold my peace. I had not now spoken unless compelled by thee. Cer- 
tainly I pray that all may turn out according to thy wishes.” 

Such was the answer of Demaratus; and Xerxes was not angry with 
him at all, but only laughed and sent him away with words of kind- 

[Having passed the Hellespont, Xerxes advanced with his army 
into Thessaly. No effective aid could be sent to the Thessalians, 
and they reluctantly allied themselves with the Persians. The most 
likely entrance into Greece proper was the Pass of Thermopylae on 
the east coast. A mixed Greek force under the Spartan king, Leoni- 
das, was sent to hold this pass.] 

The force with Leonidas was sent forward by the Spartans in ad- 
vance of their main body, that the sight of them might encourage the 
allies to fight and hinder them from going over to the Persians, as it 
was likely they might have done had they seen that Sparta was in 
back of it. They intended presently, when they had celebrated the 
festival of Apollo in August, which was what now kept them at home, 
to leave a garrison in Sparta and hasten in full force to join the army. 
The rest of the allies also intended to act similarly; for it happened 
that the Olympic festival fell exactly at this same period. None of 
them looked to see the contest at Thermopylae decided so speedily; 
wherefore they were content to send forward a mere advanced guard. 
Such accordin^y were the intentions of the allies. 

The Greek forces at Thermopylae, when the Persian army drew near 
to the entrance of the pass, were seized with fear; and a council was 
hdd to consider about a retreat. It was the wish of the Pelopoimesisms 
generally that the army should fall back upon the Peloponnese, and 
there guard the Isthmus. But Leonidas, who saw with what indigna- 
tion the Phocians and Locrians heard of this plan, gave his voice for 


The History of Herodotus 

remaining where they were, while they sent envoys to the several 
cities to ask for help, since they were too few to make a stand a gai^at 
an army like that of the Persians. 

While this debate was gomg on, Xerxes sent a mounted spy to ob- 
serve the Greeks and note how many they were and see what they 
were doing. He had heard, before he came out of Thessaly, that a few 
men were assembled at this place, and that at their head were certain 
Spartans, under Leonidas, a descendant of Hercules. The horseman 
rode up to the camp and looked about him, but did not see the whole 
army; for such as were on the further side of the wall (which had 
been rebuilt and was now carefully guarded) it was not possible for 
him to behold; but he observed those on the outside, who were en- 
camped in front of the rampart. It chanced that at this time the Lace- 
daemonians held the outer guard and were seen by the spy, some of 
them engaged in gymnastic exercises, others combing their long hair. ' 
At this Ae spy greatly marveled, but he counted their number, and 
when he had taken accurate note of everything, be rode back quietly; 
for no one pursued after him, nor paid any heed to his visit. So he re- 
turned and told Xerxes all that he had seen. 

Upon this, Xerxes, who had no means of surmising the truth — 
namely, that the Spartans were preparing to do or die manfully — 
but thought it laughable that they should be engaged in such em- 
ployments, sent and called to his presence Demaratus, who still 
remained with the army. When he appeared, Xerxes told him all 
that he had heard and questioned him concerning the news, since 
he was anxious to understand the meaning of such behavior on the 
part of the Spartans. Then Demaratus said: 

“I spoke to thee, O king! concerning these men long since, when 
we had but just begun our march upon Greece; thou, however, 
didst only laugh at my words when I told thee of ah this, which I 
saw would come to pass. Earnestly do I struggle at all times to 
speak truth to thee, sir; and now listen to it once more. These 
men have come to dispute the pass with us; and it is for this that 
they are now making ready. ’Tis their custom, when they are about 
to hazard their lives to adorn their heads with care. Be assured, 
however, that if thou canst subdue the men who are here and the 
Lacedaemonians who remain in Sparta, there is no other nation in 
all the world which will venture to lift a band in their defense. 
Diou hast now to deal with the first kingdom and town in Greece, 
and with the bravest men.” 


Translated by George Rawlinson 

Then Xerxes, to whom what Demaratus said seemed altogether 
to surpass belief, asked further how was it possible for so small 
an army to contend with his. 

“O king!” Demaratus answered, “let me be treated as a liar, if 
matters fall not out as I say.” 

But Xerxes was not persuaded any more. Four whole days he 
suffered to go by, expecting that the Greeks would run away. When, 
however, he found on the fifth that they were not gone, thinking 
that their filrm stand was mere impudence and recklessness, he 
grew wroth and sent against them the Medbs and Cissians, with 
orders to take them alive and bring them into his presence. Then 
the Medes rushed forward and charged the Greeks, but fell in vast 
numbers; others however took the places of the slain, and would 
not be beaten off, though they suffered terrible losses. In this way 
it became clear to all, and especially to the king, that though he 
had plenty of combatants, he had but very few warriors. The strug- 
gle, however, continued during the whole day. 

Then the Medes, having met so rough a reception, withdrew from 
the fight; and their place was taken by the band of Persians under 
Hydames, whom the king called his “Immortals”; they, it was thought, 
would soon finish the business. But when they joined battle with 
the Greeks, it was with no better success than the Median de- 
tachment — things went much as before — the two armies fighting 
in a narrow space, and the barbarians using shorter spears than 
the Greeks and having no advantage from their numbers. The 
Lacedaemonians fought in a way worthy of note and showed them- 
selves far more skillful in fight than their adversaries, often turning 
their backs and making as though they were all flying away, on 
which the barbarians would rush after them with much noise and 
shouting, when the Spartans at their approach would wheel around 
and face their pursuers, in this way destroying vast numbers of the 
enemy. Some Spartans likewise fell in these encounters, but only 
a very few. At last the Persians, finding that all their efforts to gain 
the pass availed nothing, and that, whether they attacked by divi- 
sions or in any other way, it was to no purpose, withdrew to their 
own quarters. 

During these assaults, it is said that Xerxes, who was watching 
the battle, thrice leaped from the throne on which he sat, in terror 
for his army. 

Next day the combat was renewed, but with no better success 


The History of Herodotus 

on the part of the barbarians. The Greeks were so few that the 
barbarians hoped to find them disabled, by reason of their wounds, 
from offering any further resistance; and so they once more attacked 
them. But the Greeks were drawn up in detachments according to 
their cities, and bore the brunt of ^e battle in turns — all except 
the Phocians, who had been stationed on the mountain to guard the 
pathway. So, when the Persians found no difference between that 
day and the preceding, they again retired to their quarters. 

Now, as the king was in great turmoil, and knew not how he 
should deal with the emergency, Ephialtes a man of Malis,* came 
to him and was admitted to a conference. Stirred by the hope of 
receiving a rich reward at the king’s hands, he had come to tell 
him of the pathway which led across the mountain to Thermopylae; 
by which disclosure he brought destruction on the band of Greeks 
who had there withstood the barbarians. This Ephialtes afterwards, • 
from fear of the Lacedaemonians, fled into Thessaly; and during 
his exile, a price was set upon his head. When some time had gone 
by, he returned from exile, and went to Anticyra, where he was 
slain by Athenades. Athenades did not slay him for his treachery, but 
still the Lacedaemonians honored him. Thus then did Ephialtes perish 
a long time afterwards. 

Great was the joy of Xerxes on this occasion; and as he approved 
highly of the enterprise which Ephialtes undertook to accomplish, 
he forthwith sent upon the errand Hydarnes and the Persians under 
him. The troops left the camp about the time of the lighting of the 
lamps. The pathway along which they went was first discovered 
by the Malians of these parts, who soon afterwards led the Thes- 
sdians by it to attack the Phocians, at the time when the Phocians 
fortified the pass with a wall and so put themselves under cover 
from danger. And ever since, the path has always been put to an 
ill use by the Malians. 

The course which it takes is the following. Beginning at the 
Asopus, where that stream flows through the cleft in the hills, it 
runs along the ridge of the mountain and ends at the city of Alpenus 
— ^the first Locrian town as you come from Malis. Here it is as 
narrow as at any other point. 

The Persians took this path, and, crossing the Asopus, continued 
their march through the whole of the ni^t, having the mountains 
of Oeta on their right hand, and on their left those of Trachis, 
* A city nearby 

Translated by George Rawlinson 
At dawn of day they found themselves dose to the s ummit. Now 
the hill was guarded, as I have already said, by a thousand Phocian 
men-at-arms, who were placed there to defend the pathway, and 
at the same time to secure their own country. They had been given 
the guard of the mountain path, while the other Greeks defended 
the pass below, because they had volunteered for the service, and 
had pledged themselves to Leonidas to maintain the post. 

The ascent of the Persians became known to the Phocians in the 
following manner. During all the time that they were making their 
way up, the Greeks remained unconscious of 'it, in as much as the 
whole mountain was covered with groves of oak; but it happened 
that the air was very still, and the leaves which the Persians stirred 
with their feet made, as it was likely they would, a loud rustling, 
whereupon the Phocians jumped up and flew to seize their arms. 
In a moment the barbarians came in sight and, perceiving men 
arming themselves, were greatly amazed; for they had fallen in 
with an enemy when they expected no opposition. Hydames, alarmed 
at die sight and fearing lest the Phocians might be Lacedaemonians, 
inquired of Ephialtes to what nation these troops belonged. Ephialtes 
told him the exact truth, whereupon he arrayed his Persians for 
battle. The Phocians, galled by the showers of anows to which they 
were exposed, and imagining themselves the special object of the 
Persian attack, fled hastily to the crest of the mountain, and there 
made ready to meet death; but while their mistake continued, the 
Persians, with Ephialtes and Hydames, not thinking it worth their 
while to delay on account of Phocians, passed on and descended the 
mountain with all possible speed. 

The Greeks at Thermopylae received the first warning of the 
destraction which the dawn would bring on them from the seer 
Meg^stias, who read their fate in the victims as he was sacrificing. 
After this deserters came in and brought the news that the Persians 
were marching around by the hills; it was still night when these 
men arrived. Last of all, the scouts came running down from the 
heights and brought in the same accormts, when Ae day was just 
beginning to break. Then the Greeks held a council to consider 
what they should do, and here opinions were divided: some were 
strong against quitting their post, while others contended to the con- 
trary. So when the council had broken up, part of the troops de- 
parted and went their ways homeward to their several states; part 
however resdved to remain and to stand by Leonidas to the last. 


The History of Herodotus 

It is said that Leonidas himself sent away the troops who de* 
parted, because he tendered their safety, but thought it unseemly 
that either he or his Spartans should quit the post which they 
had been specially sent to guard. For my own part, I incline to 
think that Leonidas gave the order because he perceived the alliaif 
to be out of heart and unwilling to encounter the danger to which 
his own mind was made up. He therefore commanded them to re- 
treat, but said that he himself could not draw back with honor; 
knowing that, if he stayed, glory awaited him, and that Sparta in 
that case would not lose her prosperity. For when the Spartans, 
at the very beginning of the war, sent to consult the oracle concern- 
ing it, the answer which they received from the Pythoness was, 
“that either Sparta must be overthrown by the barbarians, or one 
of her kings must perish.” The prophecy was delivered in hexameter 
verse, and ran thus: 

“O ye men who dwell in the streets of broad Lacedaemon! 

Either your glorious town shall be sacked by the children of Perseus, 
Or, in exchange, must all through the whole Spartan country 
Mourn for the loss of a king, descendant of great Hercules. 

HE cannot be withstood by the courage of bulls nor of lions. 

Strive as they may; he is mighty as Jove; there is nought that shall stay 

Till he have got for his prey your king or your glorious city.” 

The remembrance of this answer, I think, and the wish to secure 
the whole glory for the Spartans, caused Leonidas to send the allies 
away. This is more likely than that they quarreled with him and 
took their departure in such unruly fashion. 

To me it seems no small argument in favor of this view that the 
seer also who accompanied the army, Megistias, received orders 
to retire (as it is certain he did) from Leonidas, that he mig^t 
escape the coming destruction. Megistias, however, though bidden 
to depart, refused and stayed with the army; but he had an only 
son present with the expedition, whom he now sent away. 

So the allies, when Leonidas ordered them to retire, obeyed him 
and forthwith departed. Only the Thespians and the Thebans re- 
mained with the Spartans; and of these the Thebans were kept 
back by Leonidas as hostages, very much against their wiU. The 
Thespians, on the contrary, stayed entirely of their own accord, 
refusing to retreat, and declaring that they would not forsake Leoni- 


Translated by George Rawlinson 
das and his followers. So they abode with the Spartans and died 
with them. 

At sunrise Xerxes made libations, after which he waited until 
the time when the market is wont to fill, and then began his ad- 
vance. Ephialtes had instructed him thus, as the descent of the 
mountain is much quicker, and the distance much shorter, than the 
way around the hills and the ascent. So the barbarians under 
Xerxes began to draw nigh; and the Greeks under Leonidas, as 
they now went forth determined to die, advanced much further 
than on previous days until they reached' the more open portion 
of the pass. Hitherto they had held their station within the wall, i 
and from this had gone forth to fight at the point where the pass 
was the narrowest. Now they joined battle beyond the defile, and 
carried slaughter among the barbarians, who fell in heaps. Behind 
them the captains of the squadrons, armed with whips, urged their 
men forward with continual blows. Many were thrust into the sea, 
and there perished; a still greater number were trampled to death 
by their own soldiers; no one heeded the dying. For the Greeks, 
reckless of their own safety and desperate, since they knew that, 
as the mountain had been crossed, their destruction was nigh at 
hand, exerted themselves with the most furious valor against the 

By this time the spears of the greater number were all shivered, 
and with their swords they hewed down the ranks of the Persians; 
and here, as they strove, Leonidas fell fighting bravely, together 
with many other famous Spartans, whose names I have taken care 
to learn on account of their great worthiness, as indeed I have those 
of all the three hundred. There fell too at the same time very many 
famous Persians: among them, two sons of Darius, Abrocomes and 

Thus two brothers of Xerxes here fought and fell. And now 
there arose a fierce struggle between the Persians and the Lacedae- 
monians over the body of Leonidas, in which the Greeks four times 
drove back the enemy,-and at last by their great bravery succeeded 
in bearing off the body. This combat was scarcely ended when the 
Persians with Ephialtes approached; and the Greeks, informed that 
they drew nigh, made a change in the manner of their fighting. Draw- 
ing back into the narrowest part of the pass, and retreating even 
behind the cross wall, they posted themselves upon a hillock, where 
they stood all drawn op together in one close body, except only the 


The History of Herodotus 

Thebans. The hihock whereof I speak is at the entrance of the 
straits, where the stone lion stands which was set up in honor of 
Leonidas. Here they defended themselves to the last, such as still 
had swords using Aem, and the others resisting with their hands 
and teeth; till the barbarians, who in part had pulled down the 
wall and attacked them in front, in part had gone around and now 
encircled them upon every side, overwhelmed and buried the rem- 
nant which was left beneath showers of missile weapons. 

Thus nobly did the whole body of Lacedaemonians and Thespians 
behave; but nevertheless one man is said to have distinguished 
himself above all the rest, Dieneces the Spartan. A speech which 
he made before the Greeks engaged the Medes, remains on record. 
One of the Trachinimis told him that such was the number of the 
barbarians, that when they shot forth their arrows, the sun would 
be darkened by their multitude. Dieneces, not at all frightened at- 
these words, but making light of the Median numbers, answered, 
“Our Trachinian friend brings us excellent tidings. If the Medes 
darken the sun, we shall have our fight in the shade.” Other say- 
ings too of a like nature are reported to have been left on record 
by this same person. 

Next to him two brothers, Lacedaemonians, are reputed to have 
made themselves conspicuous: they were named Alpheus and Maro. 
There was also a Thespian who gained greater glory than any of 
his countrymen: he was a man called Dithyrambus. 

The slain were buried where they fell; and in their honor, nor 
less in honor of those who died before Leonidas sent the allies away, 
an inscription was set up, which said: 

"Here did four thousmd men from Pelops’ land 
Against three hundred myriads bravely stand." 

This was in honor of all. Another was for the Spartans alone: 

"Go, stranger, and to Lacedaemon tell 
That here, obeying her behests, we fell." 

The seer had the following: 

"The great Megistias' tomb you here may view. 

Whom the Medes slew, fresh from Spercheiuf fords. 

Well the wise seer the coming death foreknew. 

Yet scorned he to forsake his Spartan lords." 


Translated by George Rawlinson 
These inscriptions and the pillars likewise were all set up by the 
Amphictyons, except that in honor of Megistias, which was inscribed 
to him ((m account of their sworn friendship) by Simonides.* 

Two of the three hundred, it is said, Aristodemus and Eurytus, 
having been attacked by a disease of the eyes, had received orders 
from Leonidas to quit the camp; and both lay at Alpeni in the 
worst stage of the malady. These two men might, had they been 
so minded, have agreed together to return alive to Sparta; or if 
they did not like to return, they might have gone both to the field 
and fallen with their countrymen. But at this'time, when either way 
was open to them, unhappUy they could not agree, but took con- 
trary courses. Eurytus no sooner heard that the Persians had come 
around the mountain than straightway he called for his armor, and 
having buckled it on, bade his servant lead him to the place where 
his friends were fighting. The servant did so, and then turned and 
fied; but Eurytus plunged into the thick of the battle, and so perished. 
Aristodemus, on the other hand, was faint of heart and remained 
at Alpeni. It is my belief that if Aristodemus only had been sick and 
returned, or if both had come back together, the Spartans would have 
been content and felt no anger; but when there were two men with the 
very same excuse, and one of them was chary of his life while the 
other freely gave it, they could not but be very wroth with the former. 

This is the account which some give of the escape of Aristodemus. 
Others say that he, with another, had been sent on a message from 
the army, and, having it in his power to return in time for the bat- 
tle, purposely loitered on the road and so survived his comrades; 
while his fellow messenger came back in time and fell in the battle. 

When Aristodemus returned to Lacedaemon, reproach and dis- 
grace awaited him; disgrace, in as much as no Spartan would give 
him a light to kindle his fire, or so much as address a word to him; 
and reproach, since all spoke of him as “the craven.’’ However 
he wiped away all his shame afterwards at the battle of Plataea. 

Anotiier of the three hundred is likewise said to have survived 
the battle, a man named Pantites, whom Leonidas had sent on 
an embassy into Thessaly. He, they say, on his return to Sparta, 
found himself in such disesteem that he hanged himself. 

The Thebans imder the command of Leontiades remained with 
the Greeks and fought against the barbarians only so long as ne- 
cessity compelled them. No sooner did they see victory inclining to 
* The poet laureate 


The History of Herodotus 

the Persians, and the Greeks under Leonidas hurrying with all speed 
toward the hillock, than they moved away from their companions 
and, with hands upraised, advanced toward the barbarians, exclaim- 
ing, as was indeed most true, that they for their part wished well to 
the Persians, and had been among the first to give earth and water 
to the king; force alone had brought them to Thermopylae; and so 
they must not be blamed for the slaughter which had befallen the 
king’s army. These words, the truth of which was attested by the 
Thessalians, sufficed to obtain the Thebans the grant of their lives. 
However, their good fortune was not without some drawback; for 
several of them were slain by the barbarians on their first approach; 
and the rest, who were the greater number, had the royal mark 
branded upon their bodies by the command of Xerxes — ^Leontiades, 
their captain, being the first to suffer. (This man’s son, Eurymachus, 
was afterwards slain by the Plataeans, when he came with a band 
of 400 Thebans, and seized their city.) 

Thus fought the Greeks at Thermopylae. And Xerxes, after the 
fight was over, called for Demaratus to question him; and began as 

“Demaratus, thou art a worthy man; thy true speaking proves it. 
All has happened as thou didst forewarn. Now then, tell me, how 
many Lacedaemonians are there left, and of those left how many are 
such brave warriors as these? Or are they all alike?’’ 

“O king!” replied the other, “the whole number of the Lacedae- 
monians is very great; and many are the cities which they inhabit. 
But 1 will tell thee what thou reidly wishest to learn. There is a town 
of Lacedaemon called Sparta, which contains within it about eight 
thousand full-grovm men. They are, one and all, equal to those who 
have fought here. The other Lacedaemonians are brave men, but not 
such warriors as these.” 

‘Tell me now, Demaratus,” rejoined Xerxes, “how we may with 
least trouble subdue these men. Thou must know all the paths of their 
counsels, as thou wert once their king.” 

Then Demaratus answered: “O king! since thou askest my advice 
so earnestly, it is fitting that I should inform thee what I consider to 
be the best course. Detach three hundred^ vessels from the body of 
thy fleet and send them to attack the shores of Lacedaemon. There 
is an island called Cythera in those parts, not far from the coast, con- 
cerning which Chilon, one of our wisest men, made the remark that 
Sparta would gain if it were sunk to the bottom of die sea — so con- 


Translated by George Rawlinson 
stantly did he expect that it would give occasion to some project like 
that which I now recommend to thee. I mean not to say that he had 
a foreknowledge of thy attack upon Greece; but in truth he feared 
all armaments. Send thy ships then to this island and thence affright 
the Spartans. If once they have a war of their own close to their 
doors, fear not their giving any help to tbe rest of the Greeks while 
thy land force is engaged in conquering them. In this way may all 
Greece be subdued; and then Sparta, left to herself, will te power- 
less. But if thou wilt not take this advice, I will tell thee what thou 
mayest look to see. When thou comest to t^e' Peloponnese, thou wilt 
find a narrow neck of land, where all the Pelopoimesians who are 
leagued against ihee will be gathered together; and there thou wilt 
have to fi^t bloodier battles than any which thou hast yet witnessed. 

If, however, thou wilt follow my plan, the Isthmus and the cities of \ 
Peloponnese will yield to thee without a battle.” 

Achaemenes, who was present, now took the word, and spoke — 
he was brother to Xerxes, and, having the command of the fleet, 
feared lest Xerxes might be prevailed upon to do as Demaratus ad- 

“I perceive, O king! that thou art listening to the words of a man 
who is envious of thy good fortune and seeks to betray thy cause. 
This is indeed the common temper of the Grecian people — ^they envy 
good fortune and hate power greater than their own. If in this posture 
of our affairs, after we have lost four hundred vessels by shipwreck, 
three hundred more be sent away to make a voyage around the Pelo- 
ponnese, our enemies will become a match for us. But let us keep 
our whole fleet in one body, and it will be dangerous for them to ven- 
ture on an attack, as they will certainly be no match for us then. Be- 
sides, while our sea and land forces advance together, the fleet and 
army can each help each other; but if they be parted, no aid will 
come either from thee to the fleet, or from the fleet to thee. Only 
order thy own matters well, and trouble not thyself to inquire con- 
cerning the enemy-— where they will fi^t, or what they will do, or 
how many they are. Surely they can manage their own concerns with- 
out us, as we can ours without them. If the Lacedaemonians come 
out against the Persians to battle, they will scarce repair the disaster 
which has befallen them now.” 

Xerxes replied: “Achamnenes, thy counsel pleases me well, and 
I will do as Aou sayest. But Demaratus advised what he thou^t best 
—only his judgment was not so good as thine. Never will I believe 


The History of Herodotus 

that he does not wish well to my cause; for that is disproved both by 
his former counsels and also by the circumstances of &e case. A citi** 
zen does indeed envy any fellow citizen who is more lucky than him- 
self, and often hates him secretly; if such a man be called on for 
counsel, he will not give his best Noughts, unless indeed he be a man 
of very exalted virtue; and such arc but rarely found. But a friend of 
another country delights in the good fortune of his foreign bond 
friend, and will give him, when asked, the best advice in his power. 
Therefore 1 warn all men to abstain henceforth from speaking ill of 
Demaratus, who is my bond friend.*’ 

When Xerxes had thus spoken, he proceeded to pass through the 
slain; and finding the body of Leonidas, whom he knew to have been 
the Lacedaemonian king and captain, he ordered that the head 
should be struck off and the trunk fastened to a cross. This proves to 
me most clearly what is plain also in many other ways — namely, that ^ 
King Xerxes was more angry with Leonidas, while he was still in life, 
than with any other mortal. Certainly he would not else have used his 
body so shamefully. For the Persians are wont to honor those who 
show themselves valiant in fight more highly than any nation that I 
know. They, however, to whom the orders were given, did according 
to the commands of the king. 

I return now to a point in my History, which at the time I left in- 
complete. The Lacedaemonians were the first of the Greeks to hear 
of the king’s design against their country; and it was at this time that 
they sent to consult the Delphic oracle, and received the answer in 
verse of which I spoke a while ago. The discovery was made to them 
in a very strange way. Demaratus, after he took refuge with the 
Medes, was not, in my judgment, which is supported by probability, 
a well-wisher to the Lacedaemonians. It may be questioned, there- 
fore, whether he did what I am about to mention from good will or 
from insolent triumph. It happened that he was at Susa at the time 
when Xerxes determined to lead his army into Greece; and in this 
way becoming acquainted with his design, he resolved to send tidings 
of it to Sparta. So as there was no other way of effecting his purpose, 
since the danger of being discovered was great, Demaratus framed 
the following contrivance. He took a pair of tablets and, clearing the 
wax away from them, wrote what the king was proposing to do upon 
the wood whereof the tablets were made; having done this, he 
spread the wax once more over die writing, and so sent it. By these 
means, the guards placed to watch the roads, observing nothing but 


Translated by George Rawlinson 
a blank tablet, were sure to give no trouble to the bearer. When the 
tablet readied Lacedaemon, there was no one, I understand, who 
could find out the secret, till Gorgo, the wife of Leonidas, discovered 
it and told the others. “If they would scrape the wax of! the tablet,” 
she said, “they would be sure to find the writing upon the wood.” 
The Lacedaemonians took her advice, found the writing and read it; 
after which they sent it around to the other Greeks. Such then is the 
account which is given of this matter. 


[Despite the heroic resistance of the Spartans and Thespians at 
Thermopylae, the Greek cause was desperate, once the pass had 
been flanked. With little or no resistance, the Persians overran 
large parts of the north; from Boeotia they pushed into Attica and 
occupied Athens. The Athenians, knowing the city could not be 
defended, had evacuated the women and children to the island 
of Salamis. The fighting men were aboard the fleet. A new Athen- 
ian leader, Themistocles, had emerged, who believed that the war 
could be won at sea.] 

W HEN THE CAPTAINS from these various nations had come to- 
gether at Salamis, a council of war was summoned; and Eury- 
biades proposed that anyone who liked to advise, should say which 
place seemed to him the fittest among those still in the possession of 
the Greeks to be the scene of a naval combat. Attica, be said, was 
not to be thought of now; but he desired their counsel as to the re- 
mainder. The speakers mosdy advised that the fleet should sail away 
to the Isthmus, and there give battle in defense of the Peloponnese; 
and they urged as a reason for this, that if they were worsted in a 
sea fight at Salamis^ they would be shut up on an island where they 
could get no help; but if they were beaten near die Isthmus, they 
could escape to their homes. 

As the captains from the Peloponnese were thus advising, there 
came an Athenian to the camp, who brought word that the barbar- 
ians had entered Attica and were ravaging and burning everything. 
For the divisitm of the army under Xerxes had just arrived at Athens 
from hs march through Boeotia, where it had burned Thespiae and 


The History of Herodotus 

Plataea — ^both which cities were forsaken by their inhabitants, who 
had fled to the Peloponnese — and now it was laying waste to all the 
possessions of the Athenians. Thespiae and Plataea had been burned 
by the Persians, because they knew from the Thebans that neither, 
of those cities had espoused their side. 

Since the passage of the Hellespont and the commencement of the 
march upon Greece, a space of four months had gone by; one, while 
the army made the crossing, and delayed about the region of the Hel- 
lespont; and three while they proceeded thence to Attica, which they 
entered in the archonship of Calliades.* They found Ae city for- 
saken; a few people only remained in the temple, either keepers of 
the treasures or men of the poorer sort. These persons, having fortified 
the citadel with planks and boards, held out against the enemy. It 
was in some measure their poverty which had prevented them from 
seeking shelter in Salamis; but there was likewise another reason 
which in part induced them to remain. They imagined themselves to 
have discovered the true meaning of the oracle uttered by the Pytho- 
ness, which promised that “the wooden wall” should never be taken 
— ^the wooden wall, they thought, did not mean the ships, but the 
place where they had taken refuge. 

The Persians encamped upon the hill over against the citadel, 
which is called Areopagus by the Athenians, and began the siege of 
the place, attacking the Greeks with arrows to which pieces of lighted 
hemp were attached, which they shot at the barricade. And now those 
who were within the citadel found themselves in a most woeful case; 
for their wooden rampart betrayed them; still, however, they con- 
tinued to resist. It was in vain t^t the house of Pisistratus came to 
them and offered terms of surrender — ^they stoutly refused aU parley, 
and among their other modes of defense, rolled down huge masses 
of stone upon the barbarians as they were mounting up to the gates; 
so that Xerxes was for a long time very greatly perplexed and could 
not contrive any way to take them. 

At last, however, in the midst of these many difficulties, the bar- 
barians made discovery of an access. For verily the oracle had 
spoken truth; and it was fated that the whole mainland of Attica 
should fall beneath the sway of the Persians. Right in front of the 
citadel, but behind the gates and the common ascent — ^where no 
watch was kept, and no one would have thought it possible that any 
foot of man could climb — a few soldiers mounted from the sanctuary 
* 480 B.C 


Translated by George Rawlinson 
of Aglaurus, Cecrops’ daughter,* notwithstanding the steepness of 
the precipice. As soon as the Adienians saw them upon the summit, 
some threw themselves headlong from the wall and so perished, while 
others fled for refuge to the inner part of the temple. The Persians 
rushed to the gates and opened them, after which they massacred 
the suppliants. When all were slain, they plundered the temple and 
fired every part of the citadel. 

Xerxes, thus completely master of Athens, dispatched a horseman 
to Susa, with a message to Artabanus, infoMing him of his success 
hitherto. The day after, he collected together all the Athenian exiles 
who had come into Greece in his train and bade them go up into 
the citadel and there oiler sacrifice after their own fashion. I know 
not whether he had had a dream which made him give this order or 
whether he felt some remorse on account of having set the temple on 
fire. However this may have been, the exiles were not slow to obey 
the command given them. 

Meanwhile, at Salamis, the Greeks no sooner heard what had be- 
fallen the Athenian citadel than they fell into such alarm that some of 
the captains did not even wait for ^e council to come to a vote, but 
embarked hastily on board their vessels and hoisted sail as though 
they would take to flight immediately. The rest, who stayed at the coun- 
cil board, came to a vote that the fleet should give battle at the Isth- 
mus. Night now drew on and the captains, dispersing from the meet- 
ing, proceeded on board their respective ships. 

Themistocles, as he entered his own vessel, was met by Mnesiphi- 
lus, an Athenian, who asked him what the council had resolved to do. 
On learning that the resolve was to stand away for the Isthmus and 
there give battle on behalf of the Peloponnese, Mnesiphilus ex- 

“If these men sail away from Salamis, thou wilt have no fight at all 
for the one fatherland; for they will all scatter themselves to their own 
homes; and neither .Eurybiades nor anyone else will be able to hinder 
them, nor to stop the breaking up of the armament...Thus will Greece 
be brought to ruin throu^ evil coimsels. But haste thee now; and, if 
there be any possible way, seek to unsettle these resolves — ^perhaps 
thou mightest persuade Eurybiades to change his mind and continue 

The suggestitm greatly pleased Themistocles; and without answer- 
ing a word, he went straight to the vessel of Eurybiades. Arriving 
* Who had thrown herself over the diff of the Acropolis 


The History of Herodotus 

there, he let him know that he wanted to speak with him on a matter 
touching the public service. So Eurybiades bade him come on board 
and say whatever he wished. Then Themistocles, seating himself at 
his side, went over all the arguments which he had heard from Mne- 
siphilus, pretending as if they were his own, and added to them many 
new ones besides; until at last he persuaded Eurybiades, by his im- 
portunity, to quit his ship and again collect the captains to council. 

As soon as they had come, and before Eurybiades had opened to 
them his purpose in assembling them together, Themistocles, as men 
are wont to do when they are very anxious, spoke much to many of 
them; whereupon the Corinthian captain, Adeimantus, observed: 
“Themistocles, at the games they who start too soon are scourged.” 
“True,” rejoined the other in his excuse, “but they who wait too late 
are not crowned.” 

Thus he gave the Corinthian at this time a mild answer; and toward 
Eurybiades himself he did not now use any of those arguments which 
he had urged before, or say anything of fte allies’ taking themselves 
to flight if once they broke up from Salamis; it would have been un- 
graceful for him, when the confederates were present, to make accu- 
sation against any; but he had recourse to quite a new sort of reason- 
ing, and addressed him as follows: 

“With thee it rests, O Eurybiades! to save Greece, if thou wilt only 
listen to me, and give the enemy battle here, rather than yield to the 
advice of those among us, who would have the fleet withdrawn to the 
Isthmus. Hear now, I beseech thee, and judge between the two 
courses. At the Isthmus thou wilt fig^t in an open sea, which is 
greatly to our disadvantage, since our ships are heavier and fewer in 
number than the enemy’s; and further, thou wilt in any case lose 
Salamis, Megara and Aegina, even if all the rest goes well with us. 
The land and sea force of the Persians will advance together; and thy 
retreat will but draw them toward the Peloponnese, and so bring all 
Greece into peril. If, on the other hand, thou doest as I advise, these 
are the advantages which thou wilt so secure: in the first place, as we 
shall fi^t in a narrow sea with few ships against many, if the war fol- 
lows the common course, we shall gain a great victory; for to fight in 
a narrow space is favorable to us — ^in an open sea, to them. Again 
S alamis will in this case be preserved, where we have placed our 
wives and children. Nay, that very point by which ye set most store, 
is secured as much by this course as by the other; for whether we 
fig^t here or at the Isthmus, we shall equally give battle in d^tmse 


Translated by George Rawlinson 
of the Peloponnese. Assuredly you will not do wisely to draw the 
Persians upon that re^on. For if things turn out as I anticipate, and 
we beat them by sea, then we shall have kept your Isthmus &ee from 
the barbarians, and they will have advanced no farther than Attica, 
but from thence have fled back in disorder; and we shall, moreover, 
have saved Megara, Aegina and Salamis itself, where an oracle has 
said that we are to overcome our enemies. When men counsel reason- 
ably, reasonable success ensues; but when in their counsels they re- 
ject reason, God does not choose to follow the* wanderings of human 

When Themistocles had thus spoken, Adeimantus the Corinthian 
again attacked him and bade him be silent, since he was a man with- 
out a city; at the same time he called on Eurybiades not to put the 
question to one who had no country, and urged that Themistocles 
should show of what state he was envoy before he gave his voice with 
the rest. This reproach he made, because the city of Athens had been 
taken and was in the hands of the barbarians. Hereupon Themis- 
tocles spoke many bitter things against Adeimantus and the Corin- 
thians generally; and for proof that he had a country, reminded the 
captains that with two hundred ships at his command, all fully 
manned for battle, he had both city and territory as good as theirs; 
since there was no Grecian state which could resist his men if they 
were to make a descent. 

After this declaration, he turned to Eurybiades, and addressing 
him with still greater warmth and earnestness: “If thou wilt stay 
here,” he said, “and behave like a brave man, all will be well; if not, 
thou wilt bring Greece to ruin. For the whole fortune of the war de- 
pends on our ships. Be thou peniuaded by my words. If not, we will 
take our families on board, and go, just as we are, to Siris, in Italy, 
which is ours from of old, and which the prophecies declare we are to 
colonize some day or other. You then, when you have lost allies like 
us, will hereafter call to mind what I have now said.” 

At these words of Themistocles, Eurybiades changed his determi- 
nation; principally, as 1 believe, because he feared that if he with- 
drew Ae fleet to the Isthmus, the Athenians would sail away, and 
knew that without the Athenians, the rest of their ships could be no 
matdh for the fleet of the enemy. He therefore decided to remain and 
give battle at Salamis. 

And now, the different diiefs, notwithstanding thw skitmish of 
words, on learning the decision of Eurybiades, at oine made ready for 


The History of Herodotus 

the fight. Morning broke; and, just as the sun rose, the shock of an 
earthquake was felt both on shore and at sea; whereupon the Greeks 
resolved to approach the gods with prayer, and likewise to send and 
invite the Aeacids to their aid. And ^is they did, with as much speed 
as they had resolved on it. Prayers were offered to all the gods; and 
Telamon and Ajax were invoked at once from Salamis, while a shi p 
was sent to Aegina to fetch Aeacus himself and the other Aeacids. 

The following is a tale which was told by Dicaeus, an Athenian, 
who was at this time an exile and had gained a good report among the 
Persians. He declared that after the army of Xerxes had, in the ab- 
sence of the Athenians, wasted Attica, he chanced to be with De- 
maratus the Lacedaemonian in the Thriasian plain, and that while 
there, he saw a cloud of dust advancing from Eleusis, such as a host 
of thirty thousand men might raise. As he and his companion were 
wondering who the men, from whom the dust arose, could possibly 
be, a sound of voices reached his ear and he thought that he recog- 
nized the mystic hymn to Bacchus. Now Demaratus was unacquainted 
with the rites of Eleusis, and so he inquired of Dicaeus what the 
voices were saying. Dicaeus made answer; “O Demaratus! beyond a 
doubt some mighty calamity is about to befall the king’s army! For it 
is manifest, in as much as Attica is deserted by its inhabitants, that 
the sound which we have heard is an unearthly one and is now upon 
its way from Eleusis to aid the Athenians and their confederates. If it 
descends upon the Peloponnese, danger will threaten the king him- 
self and his land army — ^if it moves toward the ships at Salamis, ’twill 
go hard but the king’s fleet there suffers destruction. Every year the 
Athenians celebrate this feast to Ceres and Proserpina; and all who 
wish, whether they be Athenians or any other Greeks, are initiated. 
The sound thou hearest is the Bacchic song, which is sung at that fes- 
tival.” “Hush now,” rejoined the other, “and see thou teU no man of 
this matter. For if thy words be brou^t to the king’s ear, thou wilt 
assuredly lose thy head because of them; neither I nor any man living 
can then save thee. Hold thy peace therefore. The gods will see to the 
king’s army.” Thus Demaratus counseled him; and they looked and 
saw the dust, from which the sound arose, become a cloud, and the 
cloud rise up into the air and sail away to Salamis, making for the sta- 
tion of the Grecian fleet. Then they knew that it was the fleet of 
Xerxes which would suffer destruction. Such was the tale told by 
Dicaeus; and he a^^aled for its truth to Demaratus and other eye- 


Translated by George Rawlinson 

The men belonging to the fleet of Xerxes, after they had seen the 
Spartan dead at Thermopylae and crossed the channel from Trachis 
to Histiaea, waited there by the space of three days, and then sailing 
down through the Euripus, in three more came to Phalerum. In my 
judgment, the Persian forces both by land and sea when they invaded 
Attica were not less numerous than they had been on their arrival at 
Sepias and Thermopylae. For against the Persian loss in the storm 
and at Thermopylae, and again in the sea fl^ts off Artemisium, I set 
the various nations which had since joined the^king — as the Malians, 
the Dorians, the Locrians and the Boeotians — each serving in full 
force in his army except the last, who did not number in their ranks 
either the Thespians or the Plataeans; and together with these, the 
Carystians, the Andrians, the Tenians and the other people of the is- 
lands, who all fought on this side except the five states already men- 
tioned. For as the Persians penetrated farther into Greece, they were 
joined continually by fresh nations. 

Reinforced by the contingents of all these various states, except 
Paros, the barbarians reached Athens. As for the Parians, they tarried 
at Cythnus, waiting to see how the war would go. The rest of the sea 
forces came safe to Phalerum; where they were visited by Xerxes, 
who had conceived a desire to go aboard and learn the wishes of the 
fleet. So he came and sat in a seat of honor; and the sovereigns of the 
nations and the captains of the ships were sent for to appear before 
him, and as they arrived took their seats according to the rank as- 
signed them by the king. In the first seat sat the king of Sidon; after 
him, the king of Tyre; then the rest in their order. When the whole 
had taken their places, one after another, and were set down in or- 
derly array, Xerxes, to try them, sent Mardonius and questioned each 
whether a sea fight should be risked or not. 

Mardonius accordingly went around the entire assemblage, be^- 
ning with the Sidonian monarch, and asked this question; to which 
all gave the same answer, advising to engage the Greeks, except only 
Artemisia, who spoke as follows: 

“Say to the king, Mardonius, that these are my words to him: I 
was not the least brave of those who fought at Euboea, nor were my 
achievements there among the meanest; it is my right, therefore, O 
my lord, to tell thee plainly what I think to be most for thy advantage 
now. This then is my advice. Spare thy ships and do not risk a battle; 
for these people are as much superior to thy people in seamanship as 
men to women. What so great need is there for thee to incur hazard 


The History of Herodotus 

at sea? Art thou not master of Athens, for which thou (Udst undertake 
thy expedition? Is not Greece subject to thee? Not a soul now resists 
thy advance. They who once resisted were handled even as they de- 

“Now learn how I expect that affairs will go with thy adversaries. 
If thou art not overhasty to engage with them by sea, but wilt keep 
thy fleet near the land, then whether thou abidest as thou art, or 
marchest forward toward the Peloponnese, thou wilt easily accom- 
plish all for which thou art come hither. The Greeks cannot hold out 
against thee very long; thou wilt soon part them asunder and scatter 
them to their several homes. In the island where they lie, I hear they 
have no food in store; nor is it likely, if thy land force begins its 
march toward the Peloponnese, that they will remain quietly where 
they are — at least such as come from that region. Of a surety they 
will not greatly trouble themselves to give battle on behalf of the 

“On the other hand, if thou art hasty to fight, I tremble lest the de- 
feat of thy sea force bring harm likewise to thy land army. This, too, 
thou shouldst remember, O king; good masters are apt to have bad 
servants, and bad masters good ones. Now, as thou art the best of 
men, thy servants must needs be a sorry set. These Egyptians, Cypri- 
ans, Cilicians and Pamphylians, who are counted in the number of thy 
subject-allies, of how little service are they to thee!” 

As Artemisia spake, they who wished her well were greatly trou- 
bled concerning her words, thinking that she would suffer some hurt 
at the king’s hands because she exhorted him not to risk a battle; they, 
on the other hand, who disliked and envied her, favored as she was 
by the king above all the rest of the allies, rejoiced at her declaration, 
expecting that her life would be the forfeit. But Xerxes, when the 
words of the several speakers were reported to him, was pleased be- 
yond all others with the reply of Artemisia; and whereas, even before 
this, he had always esteemed her much, he now praised her more 
than ever. Nevertheless, he gave orders that the advice of the greater 
number should be followed; for he thought that at Euboea the fleet 
had not done its best, because he himself was not there to see— 
whereas this time he resolved that he would be an eyewitness of the 

Orders were now given to stand out to sea; and the ships proceeded 
toward Salamis, and took up the stations to which th^ were di^ 
rected, without let or hindrance from the enemy. The day, however, 


Translated by George Rawlinson 
was too far spent for them to begin the battle, since night already ap- 
proached; so they prepared to engage upon the morrow. The Greelu, 
meanwhile, were in great distress and alarm, more especially those of 
the Pelc^nnese, who were troubled that they had been kept at 
Salamis to fight on behalf of the Athenian territoiy, and feared that, 
if they should suffer defeat, they would be pent up and besieged in an 
island, while their own country was left unprotected. 

The same nig^t the land army of the barbarians began its march 
toward the Peloponnese, where, however, all Aat was possible had 
been done to prevent the enemy from forcing an entrance by land. 
As soon as news reached the Peloponnese of the death of Leonidas 
and his companions at Thermopylae, the inhabitants fiocked together 
from the various cities and encamped at the Isthmus under the com- 
mand of Cleombrotus, brother of Leonidas. Here their first care was 
to block up the Scironian Way; after which it was determined in 
council to build a wall across the Isthmus. As the number assembled 
amounted to many tens of thousands, and there was not one who did 
not give himself to the work, it was soon finished. Stones, bricks, tim- 
ber, baskets filled full of sand were used in the building; and not a 
moment was lost by those who gave their aid; for they labored with- 
out ceasing either by night or day. 

Now the nations who gave their aid and who had flocked in full 
force to the Isthmus were the following: the Lacedaemonians, all the 
tribes of the Arcadians, the Eleans, the Corinthians, the Sicyonians, 
the Epidautians, the Phliasians, the Troezenians and the Hermioni- 
ans. These all gave their aid, being greatly alarmed at the danger 
which threatened Greece. But the other inhabitants of the Pelopon- 
nese took no part in the matter; though the Olympic and Cameian 
festivals were now over. 

Seven nations inhabit the Peloponnese. Two of them are aboriginal, 
and still continue in the regions where they dwelt at the first — ^the Ar- 
cadians and the Cynurians. A third, that of the Achaeans, has never 
left the Peloponnese, but has been dislodged from its own proper 
country and inhabits a district which once belonged to others. The 
remaining nations, four out of the seven, are all immigrants — namely, 
the Dorians, the Aetolians, the Dryopians and the Lemnians. To the 
Dorians belong several very famous cities; to the Aetolians one onfy, 
that is, Elis; to the Dryopians, Hermione and Asine; to the Lemnians, 
^ the towns of the Paroreats. The aboriginal Cynurians alone seem 
to be lonians; even they, however, have, in course of time, grown to 


The History of Herodotus 

be Dorians, under the government of the Argives, whose vassals they 
were. All the cities of these seven nations, except those mentioned 
above, stood aloof from the war; and by so doing, if I may speak 
freely, they in fact took part with the Persians. 

So the Greeks at the Isthmus toiled unceasingly, as though in the 
greatest peril; since they never imagined that any great success would 
be gained by the fleet. The Greeks at Salamis, on the other hanH, 
when they heard what the rest were about, felt greatly alarmed; but 
their fear was not so much for themselves as for the Peloponnese. At 
first they conversed together in low tones, each man with his fellow, 
secretly, and marveled at the folly shown by Eurybiades; but pres- 
ently the smothered feeling broke out, and ano^er assembly was 
held; whereat the old subjects provoked much talk from the speak- 
ers, one side maintaining that it was best to sail to the Peloponnese 
and risk battle for that, instead of abiding at Salamis and fighting for 
a land already taken by the enemy; while the other, which consisted 
of the Athenians, Aeginetans, and Megarians, was urgent to remain 
and have the battle fought where they were. 

Then Themistocles, when he saw that the Peloponnesians would 
carry the vote against him, went out secretly from the council and, 
instructing a certain man what he should say, sent him on board a 
merchant ship to the fleet of the Persians. The man’s name was Sicin- 
nus; he was one of Themistocles’ household slaves and acted as tutor 
to his sons; in after times, when the Thespians were admitting persons 
to citizenship, Themistocles made him a Thespian and a rich man to 
boot. The ship brought Sicinnus to the Persian fleet, and there he de- 
livered his message to the leaders in these words: 

“The Athenian commander has sent me to you privily, without the 
knowledge of the other Greeks. He is a well-wisher to the king’s 
cause, and would rather success ^ould attend on you than on his 
countrymen; wherefore he bids me teU you that fear has seized the 
Greeks and they are meditating a hasty ffig^t. Now then it is open to 
you to achieve flie best work that ever ye wrought, if only ye will hinder 
their escaping. They no longer agree among themselves, so that they 
will not now make any resistance — ^nay, ’tis likely ye may see a fight 
already begun between such as favor and such as oppose your cause.” 
The messenger, when he had thus expressed himself, departed and 
was seen no more. 

Then the captains, believing all that the messenger had said, pro- 
ceeded to land a large body of Persian troops on the islet of Psyt- 


Translated by George Rawlinson 
taleia, which lies between Salamis and the mainland; after which, 
about the hour of midnight, they advanced their western wing toward 
Salamis, so as to enclose the Greeks. At the same time the force sta- 
tioned about Ceos and Cynosura moved forward and filled the whole 
strait as far as Munychia with their ships. This advance was made to 
prevent the Greeks from escaping by flight, and to block them op in 
Salamis, where it was thought that vengeance might be taken upon 
them for the battles fought near Artemisium. .1^ Persian troops were 
landed on the islet of Psyttaleia, because, as soon as the battle began, 
the men and wrecks were likely to be drifted thither, as the isle lay 
in the very path of the coming fight — and they would thus be able to 
save their own men and destroy those of the enemy. All these move- 
ments were made in silence, that the Greeks might have no knowl- 
edge of them; and they occupied the whole night, so that the men 
had no time to get their sleep. 

I cannot say ^t there is no truth in prophecies, or feel inclined to 
call in question those which speak with clearness, when I think of the 

"When they shall bridge with their ships to the sacred strand of Diana 
Girt with the golden falchion, and eke to marine Cynosura, 

Mad hope swelling their hearts at the downfall of beautiful Athens — 
Then shall godlike Right extinguish haughty Presumption, 

Insult’s furious offspring, who thinketh to overthrow all things. 

Brass with brass shall mingle, and Mars with blood shall empurple 
Ocean’s waves. Then — then shall the day of Greece’s freedom 
Come from Victory fair, and Saturn’s son dll-seeing.’’ 

When I look to this and perceive how clearly the oracle spoke, I 
neither venture myself to say anything against prophecies, nor do I 
approve of others impugning them. 

Meanwhile, among the captains at Salamis, the strife of words 
grew fierce. As yet they did not know that they were encompassed, 
but imagined that the barbarians remained in the same places where 
they had seen them the day before. 

in the midst of their contention, Aristides, who had crossed from 
Ae^a, arrived in Salamis. He was an Athenian, and had been ostra- 
cized by the commonalty; yet I believe, from what I have heard con- 
cerning his character, Aat there was not in all Athens a man so 
worthy or so just as he. He now came to the council, and, standing 
outside, called for Themistocles. Now Themistocles was not his friend, 
but his most determined enemy. However, under the pressure of the 


The History of Herodotus 

great dangers impending, Aristides forgot their feud and called Hie- 
mistocles out of the council, since he wished to confer with him. He 
had heard before his arrival of the impatience of the Peloponnesians 
to withdraw the fleet to the Isthmus. As soon therefore as Themisto- 
cles came forth, Aristides addressed him in these words: 

“Our rivalry at all times, and especially at the present season, ou^t 
to be a strugglle, which of us shaU most advantage our country. Let 
me then say to thee, that so far as regards the departure of the 
Peloponnesians from this place, much talk and little wiU be found 
precisely alike. I have seen with my own eyes that which I now re- 
port: that however much the Corinthians or Eurybiades himself may 
wish it, they cannot now retreat; for we are enclosed on every side 
by the enemy. Go in to them, and make this known.” 

“Thy advice is excellent,” answered the other; “and thy tidings are 
also good. That which I earnestly desired to happen, thine eyes have 
beheld accomplished. Know that what the Persians have now done 
was at my instance; for it was necessary, as our men would not fight 
here of their own free will, to make them fight whether they would or 
no. But come now, as thou hast brought the good news, go in and tell 
it. For if I speak to them, they will think it a feigned tale, and will 
not believe Aat the barbarians have enclosed us around. Therefore 
go to them and inform them how matters stand. If they believe thee, 
’twill be for the best; but if otherwise, it will not harm. For it is im- 
possible that they should now fiee away, if we are indeed shut in on 
all sides, as thou sayest.” 

Then Aristides entered the assembly and spoke to the captains; he 
had come, he told them, from Aegina, and had but barely escaped 
the blockading vessels — ^the Greek fleet was entirely enclosed by the 
ships of Xerxes — and he advised them to get themselves in rea(toess 
to resist the foe. Having said so much, he withdrew. And now an- 
other contest arose; for the greater part of the captains would not be- 
lieve the tidings. 

But while they still doubted, a Tenian trireme, commanded by 
Panaetius the son of Sosimenes, deserted from the Persians and joined 
the Greeks, brin^g full intelligence. For this reason the Tenians 
were inscribed upon the tripod at Delphi among those who overtlurew 
the barbarians. With this ship, which deserted to their side at Salamis, 
and the T.ginniaTi vessel which came over before at Artemisium, the 
Greek fleet was brought to the full number of 380 ships; otherwise it 
fell short by two of that amount. 


Translated by George Rawlinson 

Hie Greeks now, not doubting what the Tenians told them, made 
ready for the coming fight. At the dawn of day, all the men-at-arms 
were assembled together, and speeches were made to them, of which 
the best was that of Themistocles, who throughout contrasted what 
was noble with what was base, and bade them, in all that came 
within the range of man’s nature and constitution, always to make 
choice of the nobler part. Having thus wound up his discourse, he 
told them to go at once on board their ships, which they accordingly 
did; and about this time the trireme, that hadiicSen sent to Aegina for 
the Aeacidae, returned; whereupon the Greeks put to sea with all 
their fieet. 

The fieet had scarce left the land when they were attacked by the 
barbarians. At once most of the Greeks began to back water, and 
were about touching the shore, when Ameinias of Pallene, one of 
the Athenian captains, darted forth in front of the line and charged 
a ship of the enemy. The two vessels became entangled and could 
not separate, whereupon the rest of the fieet came up to help 
Ameinias and engaged with the Persians. Such is the account which 
the Athenians give of the way in which the battle began; but the 
Aeginetans maintain that the vessel which had been to Aegina for 
the Aeacidae was the one that brought on the fight. It is also re- 
ported that a phantom in the form of a woman appeared to the 
Greeks and, in a voice that was heard from end to end of the fieet, 
cheered them on to the fight; first, however, rebuking them and say- 
ing, “Strange men, how long are you going to back water?” 

Against the Athenians, who held the western extremity of the line 
toward Eleusis, were placed the Phoenicians; against the Lacedae- 
monians, whose station was eastward toward Piraeus, the lonians. Of 
these last a few only followed the advice of Themistocles to fight 
backwardly; the greater number did far otherwise. I could mention 
here the names of many trierarchs who took vessels from the Greeks, 
but I shall pass over all excepting Theomestor and Phylacus, both 
Samians. I show this preference to them, in as much ^ for this service 
Theomestor was made tyrant of Samos by the Persians, in which 
niylacus was enrolled among the king’s benefactors, and presented 
wi^ a lar^ estate in land. 

Far the greater number of tlw Persian ships engaged in this battle 
were disabled, either by the Athenians or by the Aeginetans. For as 
the Greda fouglht in order and kept their line, while the barbarians 
were in confusion and had no plan in anything that they did, the issue 


The History of Herodotus 

of the battle could scarce be other than it was. Yet the Persians 
fou^t far more bravely here than at Euboea, and indeed surpassed 
themselves; each did his utmost through fear of Xerxes, for each 
thought that the king’s eye was upon himself. 

What part the several nations, whether Greek or barbarian, took 
in the combat, I am not able to say for certain; Artemisia, however, 

I know, distinguished herself in such a way as raised her even higher 
than she stood before in the esteem of the king. For after confusion 
had spread throughout the whole of the king’s fleet, and her ship was 
closely pursued by an Athenian trireme, she, having no way to fly, 
since in front of her were a number of friendly vessels, and she was 
nearest of all the Persians to the enemy, resolved on a measure which 
in fact proved her safety. Pressed by the Athenian pursuer, she 
bore straight against one of the ships of her own party, a Calyndian, 
which had the Calyndian king himself on board. I cannot say whether 
she had had any quarrel with the man while the fleet was at the 
Hellespont, or not — ^neither can I decide whether she of set purpose 
attacked his vessel, or whether it merely chanced that the Calyndian 
ship came in her way — ^but certain it is that she bore down upon his 
vessel and sank it, and that thereby she had the good fortune to pro- 
cure herself a double advantage. For the commander of the Athenian 
trireme, when he saw her bear down on one of the enemy’s fleet, 
thought immediately that her vessel was a Greek, or else had de- 
serted from the Persians and was now fighting on the Greek side; he 
therefore gave up the chase, and turned away to attack others. 

Thus in the first place she saved her life by the action and was en- 
abled to get clear from the battle; while further, it fell out that in 
the very act of doing the king an injury she raised herself to a greater 
height than ever in his esteem. For as Xerxes beheld the fight, he re- 
marked (it is said) the destruction of the vessel, whereupon the by- 
standers observed to him: “Seest thou, master, how well Artemisia 
fights, and how she has Just sunk a ship of the enemy?” Then 
Xerxes asked if it were really Artemisia’s doing; and they answered, 
“Certainly; for we know her ensign”; while all made sure that the 
sunken vessel belonged to the opposite side. Everything, it is said, 
conspired to prosper the queen — ^it was especially fortunate for her 
that not one of those on board the Calyndian ship survived to be- 
come her accuser. Xerxes, they say, in reply to the rmnarks made to 
him, observed, “My men have behaved like women, my women like 

2 ^ 

Translated by George Rawlinson 

lliere fell in this combat Ariabignes, one of the chief commanders 
of the fleet, who was son of Darius and brother of Xerxes; and with 
him perished a vast number of men of high repute, Persians, Medes 
and allies. Of the Greeks there died only a few; for, as they were 
able to swim, all those that were not slain outright by the enemy 
escaped from the sinking vessels and swam across to Salamis. But 
on the side of the barbarians more perished by drowning than in any 
other way, since they did not know how to swim. The great destruc- 
tion took place when the ships which had been^first engaged began to 
fly; for they who were stationed in the rear, anxious to display their 
valor before the eyes of the king, made every effort to force their 
way to the front, and thus became entangled with such of their own 
vessels as were retreating. 

In this confusion the following event occurred. Certain Phoenicians 
belonging to the ships which had thus perished made their appear- 
ance before the king and laid the blame of their loss on the lonians, 
declaring that they were traitors and had willfully destroyed the ves- 
sels. But the upsW of this complaint was that the Ionian captains 
escaped the death which threatened them, while their Phoenician ac- 
cusers received death as their reward. For it happened that, exactly as 
they spoke, a Samothracian vessel bore down on an Athenian and 
saidt it, but was attacked and crippled immediately by one of the 
Aeginetan squadron. Now the Samothracians were expert with the 
javelin and aimed their weapons so well that they cleared the deck 
of the vessel which had disabled their own, after which they sprang 
on board and took it. This saved the lonians. Xerxes, when he saw 
the exploit, turned fiercely on the Phoenicians (he was ready, in his 
extreme vexation, to find fault with anyone) and ordered their heads 
td be cut off to prevent them, he said, from casting the blame of their 
own misconduct upon braver men. During the whole time of the bat- 
tle Xerxes sat at the base of the hill called Aegaleos, over against 
Salamis; and whenever he saw any of his own captains perform any 
worthy exploit he inquired concerning him; and thejnan’s name was 
taken down by his scribes, together with the names of his father and 
his ci^. Ariaramnes too, a Persian, who was a friend of the lonians, 
and present at the time whereof I speak, had a share in brin^g 
about the punishment of the Phoenicians. 

When the rout of the barbarians began, and they sought to make 
their escape to Phalerum, the Aeginetans, awaiting them in the chan- 
nel, performed exploits worthy to be recorded. Through the whole of 


The History of Herodotus 

the confused struggle the Athenians employed themselves in destroy- 
ing such ships as either made resistance or fled to shore, while the 
Aeg^tans dealt with those which endeavored to escape down the 
strait; so that the Persian vessels were no sooner clear of the Atheni- 
ans than forthwith they fell into the hands of the Aeginetan squadron. 

It chanced here that there was a meeting between the ship of 
Themistocles, which was hasting in pursuit of the enemy, and that of 
Polycritus, the Aeginetan, which had just charged a Sidonian trireme. 
The Sidonian vessel was the same that captured the Aeginetan guard 
ship off Sciathus, which had Pytheas on board — that Pytheas, I mean, 
who fell covered with wounds, and whom the Sidonians kept on board 
their ship from admiration of his gallantry. This man afterwards re- 
turned in safety to Aegina; for when the Sidonian vessel with its Per- 
sian crew fell into the hands of the Greeks, he was still found on 
board. Polycritus no sooner saw the Athenian trireme than, knowing 
at once whose vessel it was, as he observed that it bore the ensign of 
the admiral, he shouted to Themistocles jeeringly and asked him, in 
a tone of reproach, if the Aeginetans did not show themselves rare 
friends to the Medes. At the same time, while he thus reproached 
Themistocles, Polycritus bore straight down on the Sidonian. Such 
of the barbarian vessels as escaped from the battle fled to Phalerum, 
and there sheltered themselves under the protection of the land army. 

The Greeks who gained the greatest glory of all in the sea fight off 
Salamis were the Aeginetans, and after them the Athenians. The in- 
dividuals of most distinction were Polycritus the Ae^etan and two 
Athenians, Eumenes of Anagynis and Ameinias of Pallene; the lat- 
ter of whom had pressed Artemisia so hard. And assuredly, if he had 
known that the vessel carried Artemisia on board, he would never 
have given over the chase till he had either succeeded in taking her 
or else been taken himself. For the Athenian captains had received 
special orders touching the queen; and moreover a reward of ten 
thousand drachmas had been proclaimed for anyone who should 
make her prisoner; since there was great indignation felt that a 
woman should appear in arms against Athens. However, as I said 
before, she escaped; and so did some others whose ships survived the 
engagement; and these were all now assembled at the port of Phale- 

The Athenians say that Adeimantus, the Corinthian commander, 
at the moment when the two fleets joined battle, was sdzed with fear, 
and being beyond measure alarm^, spread his sails and hasted to 


Translated by George Rawlinson 
fly away; on which the other Corinthians, seeing their leader’s ship 
in full ffight, sailed off likewise. They had reached in fheir flight that 
part of the coast of Salamis where stands the temple of Minerva 
Sdras, when they met a light bark, a very strange apparition; it was 
never discovered that anyone had sent it to them; and till it appeared 
they were altogether ignorant how the battle was going. That there 
was something beyond nature in the matter they judged from this — 
that when the men in the bark drew near to their ships they addressed 
them, saying, “Adeimantus, while thou playest the traitor’s part by 
withdrawing all these ships and flying awh^' from the fl^t, the 
Greeks whom thou hast deserted are defeating their foes as com- 
pletely as they ever wished in their prayers.” Adeimantus, however, 
would not believe what the men said; whereupon they told him he 
might take them with him as hostages and put ^em to death if he did 
not find the Greeks winning. Then Adeimantus put about, both he 
and those who were with him; and they rejoined the fleet when the 
victory was already gained. Such is the tale which the Athenians tell 
concerning those of Corinth; these latter however do not allow its 
truth. On the contrary, they declare that they were among those who 
distinguished themselves most in the fight. And the rest of Greece 
bears witness in their favor. 

In the midst of the confusion Aristides, the Athenian, of whom I 
lately spoke as a man of the greatest excellence, performed the fol- 
lowing service. He took a number of the Athenian heavy-armed 
troops, who had previously been stationed along the shore of Salamis, 
and, landing with them on the islet of Psyttaleia, slew all the Persians 
by whom it was occupied. 

As soon as the sea fight was ended, the Greeks drew together to 
Salamis all the wrecks that were to be found in that quarter and pre- 
pared themselves for another engagement, supposing that the king 
would renew the fight with the vessels which still remained to him. 
Many of the wrecks had been carried away by a westerly wind to 
die coast of Attica, where they were thrown upon the strip of shore 
called Colias. Thus not only were the prophecies of die oracles Bacis 
and Musaeus concerning this batde fulMed completely, but like- 
wise, by the place to whidi the wrecks were drifted, the prediction 
tA Lysistratus, an Athenian soothsayer, uttered many years before 
these events and quite forgotten at Ae time by all the Greeks, was 
fully accomplished. The words were: 


The EbsTORY of Herodotus 

*‘Then shall the sight of the oars fill Colian dames with amazement" 
Now this must have happened as soon as the king was departed. 

Xerxes, when he saw the extent of his loss, began to be afraid lest 
the Greeks might be counseled by the lonians, or without their advice 
might determine to sail straight to the Hellespont and break down 
the bridges there; in which case he would be blocked up in Europe, 
and run great risk of perishing. He therefore made up his mind to 
fly; but, as he wished to hide his purpose alike from the Greeks and 
from his own people, he set to work to carry a mound across the 
channel to Salamis, and at the same time began fastening a number 
of Phoenician merchant ships together, to serve at once for a bridge 
and a wall. He likewise made many warlike preparations, as if he 
were about to engage the Greeks once more at sea. Now, when these 
things were seen, aU grew fully persuaded that the king was bent on 
remaining and intended to push the war in good earnest. Mardonius, 
however, was in no respect deceived; for long acquaintance enabled 
him to read all the king’s thoughts. Meanwhile, Xerxes, though en- 
gaged in this way, sent off a messenger to carry intelligence of his 
misfortune to Persia. 

Nothing mortal travels so fast as these Persian messengers. The 
entire plan is a Persian invention; and this is the method of it. Along 
the whole line of road there are men (they say) stationed with horses, 
in number equal to the number of days which the journey takes, al- 
lowing a man and horse to each day; and these men will not be hin- 
dered from accomplishing at their best speed the distance which they 
have to go, either by snow, or rain, or heat or by the darkness of 
ni ght . The first rider delivers his dispatch to the second, and the sec- 
ond passes it to the third; and so it is borne from hand to hand along 
the whole line, like the light in the torch race, which the Greeks cele- 
brate to Vulcan. 

At Susa, on the arrival of the first message, whidi said that Xerxes 
was master of Athens, such was the delight of the Persians who had 
remained behind that they forthwith strewed all the streets with 
myrtle bou^s and burned incense and fell to feasting and merri- 
ment. In like manner, when the second message reached them, so 
sore was their dismay that they all with one accord rent their gar- 
ments and cried aloud and wept and wailed without stint. They laid 
the blame of the disaster on Mardonius; and their grief on the occa- 
sion was less on account of the damage done to their ships than owing 


Translated by George Rawlinson 
to the alarm which they felt about the safety of the king. Hence their 
trouble did not cease t^ Xerxes hiniself, by his arrival, put an end to 
their fears. 

And now Mardonius, perceiving that Xerxes took the defeat of 
his fleet greatly to heart, and suspecting that he had made up his 
mind to leave Athens and fly away, began to think of the likelihood 
of his being visited with punishment for having persuaded the king 
to undertake the war. He therefore considered that it would be the 
best thing for him to adventure farther, and eiAer become the con- 
queror of Greece — which was the result he rather expected — or else 
die gloriously after aspiring to a noble achievement. So with these 
thoughts in his mind, he said one day to the king: 

“Do not grieve, master, or take so greatly to heart thy late loss. 
Our hopes hang not altogether on the fate of a few planks, but on 
our brave steeds and horsemen. These fellows, whom thou imaginest 
to have quite conquered us, wUl not venture — no, not one of them — 
to come ashore and contend with our land army; nor will the Greeks 
who are upon the mainland fight our troops; such as did so have re- 
ceived their punishment. If thou so pleasest, we may at once attack 
the Peloponnese; if thou wouldst rather wait awhile, that too is in our 
power. Only be not disheartened. For it is not possible that the 
Greeks can avoid being brought to account, alike for this and for 
their former injuries; nor can they anyhow escape being thy slaves. 
Thou shouldst therefore do as I have said. If, however, thy mind 
is made up and thou art resolved to retreat and lead away thy army, 
listen to the counsel which, in that case, I have to offer. Make not the 
Persians, O king! a laughingstock to the Greeks. If thy affairs have 
succeeded ill, it has not been by their fault; thou canst not say that 
thy Persians have ever shown themselves cowards. What matters it if 
Phoenicians and Egyptians, Cyprians and Cilicians have misbe- 
haved? Their misconduct touches not us. Since then thy Persians are 
without fault, be advised by me. Depart home, if thou art so 
minded, and take with thee Ae bulk of thy army; but first let me 
choose out 300,000 troops, and let it be my task to bring Greece be- 
neath thy sway.” 

Xerxes, when he heard these words, felt a sense of joy and delight, 
like a man who is relieved from care. Answering Mardonius, there- 
fore, that he would consider his counsel, and let him know which 
course he mi^t pr^er, Xerxes proceeded to consult with the chief 


The History of Herodotus 

men among the Persians; and because Artemisia on the former oo 
casion had shown herself the only person who knew what was best to 
be done, he was pleased to summon her to advise him now. As soon 
as she arrived, he put forth all the rest, both councilors and body- 
guards, and said to her: 

“Mardonius wishes me to stay and attack the Peloponnese. My 
Persians, he says, and my other land forces are not to blame for the 
disasters which have befallen our arms; and of this he declares they 
would very gladly give me the proof. He therefore exhorts me either 
to stay and act as I have said or to let him choose out 300,000 of my 
troops — wherewith he undertakes to reduce Greece beneath my 
sway — while 1 myself retire with the rest of my forces and withdraw 
into my own country. Do thou, therefore, as thou didst counsel me so 
wisely to decline the sea fight, now also advise me in this matter and 
say which course of the two I ought to take for my own good.” 

Thus did the king ask Artemisia’s counsel; and the following are 
the words with which she answered him: 

“It is a hard thing, O king! to give the best possible advice to one 
who asks our counsel. Nevertheless, as thy affairs now stand, it seems 
to me that thou wilt do right to return home. As for Mardonius, if he 
prefers to remain, and undertakes to do as he has said, leave him be- 
hind by all means with the troops which he desires. If his design suc- 
ceeds, and he subdues the Greeks, as he promises, thine is the con- 
quest, master; for thy slaves will have accomplished it. If, on the 
other hand, affairs run counter to his wishes, we can suffer no great 
loss, so long as thou art safe and thy house is in no danger. The 
Greeks, too, while thou livest, and thy house flourishes, must be pre- 
pared to fight full many a battle for their freedom; whereas if Mar- 
donius falls, it matters nothing — they will have gained but a poor 
triumph— a victory over one of thy slaves! Remember also, thou 
goest home having gained the purpose of thy expedition; for thou 
hast burned Athens!” 

The advice of Artemisia pleased Xerxes well; for she had exactly 
uttered his own thoughts. I, for my part, do not believe that he would 
have remained had all his counselors, both men and women, united 
to urge his stay, so great was the alarm that he felt. As it was, he gave 
praise to Artemisia and entrusted certain of his children to her 
care, ordering her to convey them to Ephesus; for he had been ac- 
companied on the expedition by some of his natural sons. 


Translated by George Rawlinson 
[Xerxes, following the advice of Mardonius and Artemisia, re- 
turned to Persia with a large part of the army. Mardonius remained 
in command; he sent an envoy to Athens in an attempt to win over 
the Athenians to the Persian side and thus gain mastery of the 
sea. The Athenians, however, rejected his offer and remaned 
allied with the Greeks.} 


[The two great armies encamped opposite each other near Plataea: 
the Greeks — including, among others, Spartans, Tegeans, Corin- 
thians, Arcadians, Epidaurians, Megarians, Athenians — led by 
Pausanius of Sparta and numbering 110,000 men, and the Per- 
sians (barbarians), 350,000 strong under the command of Mar- 
donius. After twelve days of inactivity, the Greeks withdrew to 

M ardonius, when he heard that the Greeks had retired under 
cover of the night, and beheld the place where they had been 
stationed now empty, called to him Thorax of Larissa and his broth- 
ers, Eurypylus and Thrasideius, and said: 

“O sons of Aleuas! what will you say now, when you see yonder 
place empty? Why, you who dwell in their neighborhood told me the 
Lacedaemonians never fled from battle, but were brave beyond all 
the rest of mankind. Lately, however, you yourselves beheld them 
change their place in the line; and here, as all may see, they have run 
away during the night. Verily, when their turn came to fight with 

showed plainly enough that they are men of no worth, who have dis- 
tinguished themselves among Greeks — ^men likewise of no worth at 
all. However, I can readily excuse you who, knowing nothing of the 
Persians, praised these men from your acquaintance, with certain ex- 
ploits of theirs. . . . Now we must not allow them to escape us, but 
must pursue after them till we overtake them; and then we must ex- 
act vengeance for all the wrongs which have been suffered at their 
hands by the Persians.” 

When he had so spoken, he crossed the Asopus, and led the Per- 
sians forward at a run directly upon the track of the Greeks, whom 
he bdkved to be in actual flight. He could not see the Athenians; for, 


The History of Herodotus 

as they had taken the way of the plain, they were hidden from his 
sight by the hills; he ther^ore led on his troops against the Lacedae- 
monians and the Tegeans only. When the commanders of the other 
divisions of the barbarians saw the Persians pursuing the Greeks so 
hastily, they all forthwith seized their standards, and hurried after 
at their best speed in great disorder and disarray. On they went with 
loud shouts and in a wild rout, thinking to swallow up the runaways. 

Meanwhile Pausanias had sent a horseman to the Athenians at 
the time when the cavalry first fell upon him with this message: 

“Men of Athens! now that the great struggle has come, which is to 
decide the freedom or the slavery of Greece, we two, Lacedae- 
monians and Athenians, are deserted by all the other allies, who have 
fied away from us during the past night. Nevertheless, we are re- 
solved what to do — we must endeavor, as best we may, to defend 
ourselves and to succor one another. Now, had the horse fallen upon 
you first, we ourselves with the Tegeans (who remain faithful to the 
Greek cause) would have been bound to render you assistance 
against them. As, however, the entire body has advanced upon us, it 
is your place to come to our aid, sore pressed as we are by the enemy. 
Should you yourselves be so distressed that you cannot come, at least 
send us your archers, and be sure you will earn our gratitude. We 
acknowledge that throughout this whole war there has been no zeal 
to be compared to yours; we therefore doubt not that you will do us 
this service.” 

The Athenians, as soon as they received this message, were anx- 
ious to go to the aid of the Spartans and to help them to the utmost of 
t h^ir power; but, as they were upon the march, the Greeks on the 
king’s side, whose place in the line had been opposite theirs, fell u^n 
them and so harassed them by their attacks that it was not possible 
for them to give the succor they desired. Accordin^y the Laceda^ 
monians and the Tegeans — ^whom nothing could induce to quit their 
side — ^were left alone to resist the Persians. Including the light-armed, 
the number of the former was 50,000; while that of the Tegeans was 
3000. Now, therefore, as they were about to engage with Mardonius 
and the troops under him, they made ready to offer sacrifice. The 
victims, however, for some time were not favorable; and, during the 
delay, many fell on the Spartan side, and a still greater number were 
wounded. For the Persians had made a rampart of their wickar 
shidds and shot from behind them such douds of arrows that the 
Spartans were sorely distressed. The victims continued unpropitious; 


Translated by George Rawlinson 
till at last Pausanias raised his eyes to the Temple of Juno of the 
Plataeans, and calling the goddess to his aid, besought her not to 
disappoint the hopes of the Greeks. 

As he offered his prayer, the Tegeans, advancing before the rest, 
rushed forward against the enemy; and the Lacedaemonians, who 
had obtained favorable omens the moment that Pausanias prayed, 
at length, after their long delay, advanced to the attack; wMe the 
Persians, on their side, left shooting and prepared to meet them. And 
first the combat was at the wicker shields. 'Aherwards, when these I 
were swept down, a fierce contest took place by the side of the tern- \ 
pie of Ceres, which lasted long and ended in a hand-to-hand struggle. \ 
The barbarians many times seized hold of the Greek spears and ' 
broke them; for in boldness and warlike spirit the Persians were not 
a bit inferior to the Greeks; but they were without bucklers, untrained 
and far below the enemy in respect to skill in arms. Sometimes singly, 
sometimes in bodies of ten, now fewer and now more in number, they 
dashed forward upon the Spartan ranks, and so perished. 

The fight went most against the Greeks where Mardonius, 
mounted upon a white horse and surrounded by the bravest of all 
the Persians, the thousand picked men, fought in person. As long as 
Mardonius was alive, this body resisted all attacks and, whUe they 
defended their own lives, struck down no small number of Spartans; 
but after Mardonius fell, and the troops with him which were the 
main strength of the army perished, the remainder yielded to the 
Lacedaemonians, and took to fiight. Their light clothing and want of 
bucklers were of the greatest hurt to them, for they had to contend 
against men heavily armed, while they themselves were without any 
such defense. 

Then was the warning of the oracle fulfilled; and the vengeance 
which was due to the Spartans for the slaughter of Leonidas was paid 
them by Mardonius; then too did Pausanias win a victory exceeding 
in glory all those to which our knowledge extends. Mardonius was 
dain by Aeimnestus, a man famous in Sparta — ^the-same who in the 
Messenian war, which came after the strugg|le against the Persians, 
fmight a battle near Stenyclerus with but three hundred men against 
the whole force of the Messenians, and himself perished and -the 
three hundred with him. 

The Persians, as soon as they were put to flight by the Lacedae- 
monians, ran hastily away, without preserving any order, and took 
refuge in their own camp within the wooden defense which they had 


The History of Herodotus 

raised in the Theban territory. It is a marvel to me how it came to 
pass that although the battle was fought quite close to the grove of 
Ceres, yet not a singfle Persian appears to have died on the sacred 
soil, nor even to have set foot upon it, while around about the pre- 
cinct, in the unconsecrated ground, great numbers perished. I im- 
agine — if it is lawful in matters which concern the gods to imagine 
anything — ^that the goddess herself kept them out, because they had 
burned her dwelling at Eleusis. Such, then, was the issue of this bat- 

Artabazus, who had disapproved from the first of the king’s leav- 
ing Mardonius behind him, and had made great endeavors, but all 
in vain, to dissuade Mardonius from risking a battle, when he found 
that the latter was bent on acting otherwise than he wished, did as 
follows. He had a force under his orders which was far from incon- 
siderable, amounting, as it did, to near forty thousand men. Being 
well aware, therefore, how the battle was likely to go, as soon as the 
two armies began to fight, he led his soldiers forward in an orderly 
array, bidding them one and all proceed at the same pace and follow 
him with such celerity as they should observe him to use. Having 
issued these commands, he pretended to lead them to the battle. But 
when, advancing before his army, he saw that the Persians were al- 
ready in flight, instead of keeping the same order, he wheeled his 
troops suddenly around and beat a retreat; nor did he even seek 
shelter wi thin palisade or behind the walls of Thebes, but hur- 
ried on into Phocis, wishing to make his way to the Hellespont with 
all possible speed. Such accordingly was the course which these Per- 
sians took. 

As for the Greeks upon the king’s side, while most of them played 
the coward purposely, the Boeotians, on the contrary, had a long 
struggle with the Athenians. Those of the Thebans who were at- 
tached to the Persians displayed especially no little zeal; far from 
playing the coward, they fought with such fury that three hundred 
of the best and bravest among them were slain by the Athenians in 
this passage of arms. But at last they too were routed and fled away 
—-mot, however, in the same direction as the Persians and the crowd 
of allies, who, having taken no part in the battle, ran off without strik- 
ing a blow — ^but to the city of Thebes. 

To me it shows very clearly how completely the rest of the bar- 
barians were dependent upon the Persian troops, that here they all 
fled at once, without ever coming to blows with the enemy, mK^ 


Translated by George Rawlinson 
because they saw the Persians running away. And so it came to pass 
that the whole army took to flight, except ody the horse, both Persian 
and Boeotian. These did good service to the flying foot men, by ad- 
vancing close to the enemy and separating between the Greeks and 
their own fugitives. 

The victors however pressed on, pursuing and slaying the remnant 
of the king’s army. 

Meantime, while the flight continued, tidiitgs reached the Greeks 
who were drawn up around the Temple of Juno, and so were absent 
from the battle, that the fight was begun and that Pausanias was gain- 
ing the victory. Hearing this, they rushed forward without any order, 
the Corinthians taking the upper road across the skirts of Cithaeron 
and the hills, which led straight to the temple of Ceres; while the 
Megarians and Phliasians followed the level route through the plain. 
These last had almost reached the enemy when the Theban horse 
spied them and, observing their disarray, dispatched against them 
the squadron of which Asopodorus was captain. Asopodorus charged 
them with such effect that he left six hunted of their number dead 
upon the plain and, pursuing the rest, compelled them to seek shel- 
ter in Cithaeron. So these men perished without honor. 

The Persians and the multitude with them who fled to the wooden 
fortress were able to ascend into the towers before the Lacedae- 
monians came up. Thus placed, they proceeded to strengthen the 
defenses as weU as they could; and when the Lacedaemonians ar- 
rived, a sharp fight took place at the rampart. As long as the Athe- 
nians were away, the barbarians kept off their assailants and had 
much the best of the combat, since the Lacedaemonians were tm- 
skilled in the attack of walled places: but on the arrival of the Athe- 
nians, a more violent assault was made, and the wall was for a long 
lime attacked with fury. In the end the valor of the Athenians and 
their perseverance prevailed; they gained the top of &e wall and, 
breaking a breach through it, enabled the Greeks to pour m. The first 
to enter here were the Tegeans, and they plundered* the tent of Mar- 
donius, where among other booty they found the manger from which 
his horses ate, all made of solid brass, and well worth looking at. 
This manger was g^ven by the Tegeans to the temple of Minerva 
Alea, while the remainder of their booty was brougfht into the com- 
mcm stock of the Greeks. As .soon as the wall was broken down, the 
bfurbarians no longer kept together in any array, nor was there one 
amopg them who thou^t of making further resistance; iq, good troth, 


The History of Herodotus 

they were all half dead with fright, huddled as so many thousands 
were into so narrow and confined a space. With such tameness did 
they submit to be slaughtered by die Greeks, that of the 300,000 men 
who composed the army — omitting the 40,000 by whom Artabazus 
was accompanied in his flight— no more than 3000 outlived the bat- 
tle. Of the Lacedaemonians from Sparta there perished in this com- 
bat ninety-one; of the Tegeans, sbcteen; of the Athenians, fifty-two. 

On the side of the barbarians, the greatest courage was man^ested 
among the foot soldiers by the Persians; among the horse, by the 
Sacae; while Mardonius himself, as a man, bore of! the palm from 
the rest. Among the Greeks, the Athenians and the Tegeans fought 
well; but the prowess shown by the Lacedaemonians was beyond 
either. Of this I have but one proof to offer — since all the three na- 
tions overthrew the force opposed to them — and that is, that the 
Lacedaemonians fought and conquered the best troops. The bravest 
man by far on that day was, in my judgment, Aristodemus — ^the same 
who £done escaped &om the slaughter of the three hundred at 
Thermopylae, and who on that account had endured disgrace 
and reproach; next to him were Posidonius, Philocyon and Amom- 
pharetus the Spartan. The Spartans, however, who took part in the 
fight, when the question of “who had distinguished himself most” 
came to be talked over among them, decided that Aristodemus, who, 
on account of the blame which attached to him, had manifestly 
courted death and had therefore left his place in the line and behaved 
like a madman, had done of a truth very notable deeds; but that 
Posidonius, who, with no such desire to lose his life, had quitted him- 
self no less gallantly, was by so much a braver man than he. Per- 
chance, however, it was envy that made them speak after this sort. 
Of those whom I have named above as slain in this battle, all except 
Aristodemus received public honors. Aristodemus alone had no 
honors because he courted death for the reason which I have men- 

These then were the most distinguished of those who fougjht at 
Plataea. As for Callicrates — the most beautiful man, not among the 
Spartans only, but in the whole Greek camp — ^he was not killed in 
the batde; few it was while Pausanias was still consulting the victims, 
that as he sat in his proper pla^ in the line, an arrow struck him on 
the side. While his comrades advanced to the fight, he was borro out 
of the ranks, very loath to die, as he showed by the words which he 
addressed to Arimnestus, one of the Plataeans; “I grieve,” said he, 


Translated by George Rawlinson 
“not because I have to die for my country, but because I have not 
lifted my arm against the enemy, nor done any deed worthy of me, 
much as I have desired to achieve something.” 

The Athenian who is said to have distinguished himself the most 
was Sophanes, of the Deceleian canton. The man of this canton, once 
upon a time, did a deed, which (as the Athenians themselves con- 
fess) has ever since been serviceable to them. When the sons of 
Tyndarus, in days of yore, invaded Attica with a mighty army to re- 
cover Helen, and, not bemg able to find out -whither she had been 
carried, desolated the cantons — at this time, they say, the Deceleians 
(or Decelus himself, according to some), displeased at the rudeness 
of Theseus, and fearing that the whole territory would suffer, dis- 
covered everything to the enemy and even showed them the way to 
Aphidnae, which Utacus, a native of the place, betrayed into their 
hands. As a reward for this action, Sparta has always, from that time 
to the present, allowed the Deceleians to be free from all dues and 
to have seats of honor at their festivals; and hence too, in the war 
which took place many years after these events between the Pelopon- 
nesians and the Athenians, the Lacedaemonians, while they laid 
waste to all the rest of Attica, spared the lands of the Deceleians. 

Of this canton was Sophanes, the Athenian, who most distinguished 
himself in the battle. Two stories are told concerning him: according 
to the one, he wore an iron anchor, fastened to the belt which secured 
his breastplate by a bronze chain; and this, when he came near the 
enemy, he threw out; to the intent that, when they made their charge, 
it might be impossible for him to be driven from his post; as soon, 
however, as the enemy fled, his wont was to take up his anchor and 
join the pursuit. Such, then, is one of the said stories. The other, 
which is contradictory to the first, relates that Sophanes, instead of 
having an iron anchor fastened to his breastplate, bote the device 
of an anchor upon his shield, which he never allowed to rest, but 
made to run around continually. 

Another ^orious deed was likewise performed by this same 
Sophanes. At the time when the Athenians wefb laying siege to 
Aegina, he took op the challenge of Eurybates the Ar^ve, a winner 

the Pentathlon, and slew him. The fate of Sophanes in after times 
was the following: he was leader of an Athenian army in conjunction 
with Leagros, the son of Glaucon, and in a battle with the l^onians 
near Datum, about the gold mines there, he was slain, after display- 
ing uncommon bravery. 


The History of Herodotus 

As soon as the Greeks at Plataea had overthrown the barbarians, 
a woman came over to them from the enemy. She was one of the 
concubines of Pharandates, the son of Teaspes, a Persian; and when 
she heard that the Persians were all slain and that the Greeks had 
carried the day, forthwith she adorned herself and her maids with 
many golden ornaments, and with the bravest of the apparel that she 
had brought with her and, alighting from her litter, came forward to 
the Lacedaemonians, ere the work of slaughter was well over. When 
she saw that all the orders were given by Pausanias, with whose 
name and country she was well acquainted, as she had oftentimes 
heard tell of them, she knew who he must be; wherefore she em- 
braced his knees, and said: 

“O king of Sparta! save thy suppliant from the slavery that awaits 
the captive. Already I am beholden to thee for one service — ^the 
slaughter of these men, wretches who had no regard either for gods 
or angels. I am by birth a Coan, the daughter of Hegetoridas. The 
Persians seized me by force in Cos, and kept me against my will.” 

“Lady,” answered Pausanias, “fear nothing; as a suppliant thou 
art safe — and still more, if thou hast spoken truth, and Hegetoridas 
of Cos is thy father — for he is bound to me by closer ties of friend- 
ship than any other man in those regions.” 

When he had thus spoken, Pausanias placed the woman in the 
charge of some of the magistrates who were present, and afterward 
sent her to Aegina, whither she had a desire to go. 

About the time of this woman’s coming, the Mantineans anived 
upon the field and found that all was over and that it was too late to 
t^e any part in the battle. Greatly distressed at this, they declared 
themselves to deserve a fine, as laggards; after which, learning that 
a portion of the Persians had fled away under Artabazus, they were 
anxious to go after them as far as Thessaly. The Lacedaemonians 
however would not suffer the pursuit; so they returned again to their 
own land and sent the leaders of their army into banisWfent. Soon 
after the Mantineans, the Eleans likewise arrived and showed the 
same sorrow; after which they too returned home and banished their 
leaders. But enough concerning these nations. 

There was a man at Plataea among the troops of the Ae^etans, 
whose name was Lampon; he was the son of Pytheas, and a person 
of the first rank among his countrymen. Now this Lampon went about 
this same time to Pausanias and counseled him to do a deed of ex- 
ceeding wickedness. “Son of Qeombrotus,” he said very earnestly, 


Translated by George Rawlinson 
‘‘what thou hast already done is passing great and ^orious. By the 
favor of Heaven thou hast saved Greece and gained a renown be- 
yond all the Greeks of whom we have any knowledge. Now then so 
finish thy work that thine own fame may be increased thereby and 
that henceforth barbarians may fear to commit outrages on the Gre- 
cians. When Leonidas was slain at Thermopylae, Xerxes and Mar- 
donius commanded that he should be beheaded and crucified. Do 
thou the like at this time by Mardonius, and thou wilt have glory in 
Sparta and likewise throu^ the whole of Glbeece. For, by hanging , 
him upon a cross, thou wilt avenge Leonidas, who was thy father’s 

Thus spoke Lampon, thinking to please Pausanias; but Pausanias 
answered him: “My Aeginetan friend, for thy foresight and thy 
friendliness I am much beholden to thee, but the counsel which thou 
hast offered is not good. First hast thou lifted me up to the skies by 
thy praise of my country and my achievement; and then thou hast 
cast me down to the ground by bidding me maltreat the dead and 
saying that thus I shall raise myself in men’s esteem. Such doings be- 
fit barbarians rather than Greeks; and even in barbarians we detest 
them. On such terms then I could not wish to please the Aeginetans, 
nor those who think as they think — enough for me to gain the ap- 
proval of my own countrymen by righteous deeds as well as by 
righteous words. Leonidas, whom thou wouldst have me avenge, 
is, I maintain, abundantly avenged already. Surely the countless lives 
here taken are enough to avenge not him only, but all those who fell at 
Thermoj^lae. Come not thou before me again with such a speech 
nor with such counsel; and thank my forbearance that thou art not 
now punished.’’ Then Lampon, having received this answer, departed 
and went his way. 

[The Greeks continued their pursuit of the retreating Persians all 
the way to the Hellespont, where the Persians had begun their in- 
vasion. At home, sacrifices were offered for the victory; battle- 
fields were cleared, and the tremendous tasks of reconstruction of 
property and restoration of harmony emtong the Greek states were 
beffoi. Xerxes had withdrawn to his Asian domains, where he 
continued his cruel intrigues among Us kingdoms, but he no longer 
threatened the West. The Greek army gained the Hellespont, took 
the dty of Sestos and marveled at the wreckage of Xerxes’ 
bridge across the strmts.] 


The History of Herodotus 

This done, they sailed back to Greece, carrying with them, besides 
other treasures, the shore cables from the bridge of Xerxes, which 
they wished to dedicate in their temples. And this was all diat took 
place that year.* 

It was one Artembares who bad suggested to the Persians a pro> 
posal which they readily embraced, and had thus urged upon 
Cyrus :t “Since Jove,” they said, “has ^ven the rule to the Persians, 
and to thee chiefly, O Cyrus! come now, let us quit this land wherein 
we dwell — ^for it is a scant land and rugged — and let us choose our- 
selves some other better country. Many such lie around us, some 
nearer, some farther off; if we take one of these, men will admire us 
far more than they do now. Who that had the power would not so act? 
And when shall we have a fairer time than now, when we are lords of 
so many nations and rule all Asia?” Then Cyrus, who did not greatly 
esteem the counsel, told them, they might do so if they liked, but he 
warned them not to expect in that case to continue rulers, but to pre- 
pare for being ruled by others; soft countries gave birth to soft men; 
there was no region which produced very delightful fruits and at the 
same time men of a warlike spirit. So the Persians departed with 
altered minds, confessing that Cyrus was wiser than they; and 
chose rather to dwell in a churlish land and exercise lordship than 
to cultivate plains and be the slaves of others. 

•479B.C. ^ „ 

t Herodotus recalb King Cyrus of the First Book; the Pentans under Xerxes 
now withdrew from the Hellespont, just as Cyrus had once warned them that 
they would do. 


Ludwig van Beethoven 


1812 [?] 

G enius of romantic music though he was, Ludwig van Bee- 
thoven faced sorrows in his life that threatened to break even 
bis titanic spirit. All his life he was afflicted by loneliness; 
friends and relatives whom he trusted failed him; and with the musM 
world at his feet, this man who had created some of the most magnifi- 
cent music we know grew totally deaf. 

After four years of suffering, he wrote in 1802 his famous last wiu 
for his brothers, though he Uved on for twenty-five years. In it he 
■ifscribH the an guish of realizing that his affliction was incurable. 
Always a complex and remote person, Beethoven was even furffler 
isolated from human relationships by his malady. Beset with suicidal 
thoughts, feeling that his career was certainly at an end, he was finafiy 
prevented from self-destruction only by his irrepressible creative 
urge. “Only mt withheld me; ah, it seemed impossible to leave the 
world until I had produced all that I felt c^ upon to produce, and 
so I endured this wretched existence. ..." . , *u 

Beethoven’s biographers have not been neariy so successful as the 
master in overcoming difficulties. Mysteries still surround the com- 
poser, and <me of the most intriguing involves the com^sition of 
some love letters which were found in a secret drawer of his writing 

Portrait of the young Beethoven. 

desk after his death. They were written in pencil, often illegibly, and 
addressed to an “Immortal Beloved.” 

No one yet knows who the “Immortal Beloved” was. Beethoven’s 
friend Schindler, the first of his biographers, decided that the lady 
in question was the Countess Giulietta Guicciardi, to whom Bee- 
thoven had dedicated the “Moonlight” Sonata and with whom he had 
had a love affair. Schindler suggested the year 1806 as the date of 
the letters, an assumption that went unchallenged for many years. 

Alexander Thayer, however, in his long biography, brought schol- 
ariy procedures to bear on the problem. The first letter itself states 
that it was written on Monday, July 6. By consulting a calendar, 
Thayer discovered that during Beethoven’s fifetime Jidy 6 had fallmi 
on a Monday only during the years 1795, 1801, 1807, 1812 and 

1818. The year 1795 could be discounted on the obvious grounds that 
at twenty-five Beethoven would not have written “At my age I need 
a regularity and steadiness in life,” nor did he then travel long dis- 
tances for his health. Further research showed that the composer had 
not spent the Julys of 1801, 1807 and 1818 at a Bohemian resort. 
Thayer, however, refused to accept the obvious conclusion that the 
letter must have been written in 1812, but conduded that the letter 
was misdated. Ultimately he decided that 1806 was the year, and that 
the “Immortal Beloved” was Therese von Brunswick, a cousin of 
Giulietta Guicciardi. The great weight of Thayer’s reputation caused 
many subsequent scholars to accept his “misdating” theory. Some few 
remained loyal to the Countess, while still others brought forward 
“Immortal Beloveds” of their own. 

Finally, in 1909 and 1910, two researchers working independently 
published books which arrived at substantially similar findings. 
Dr. Wolfgang A. Thomas-San-Galli and Max Unger, both remark- 
able literary detectives, examined every year between 1795 and 1818, 
and concluded that only 1812 fit all the facts. Beethoven was in 
Teplitz, Bohemia, in July of that year and went afterwards to Karlsbad 
(the letter mentions the mail coach as going to K.). Internal evidence 
directed attention to the presence of Count Esterhazy at Karlsbad, 
the mail and coach schedules, rainy weather, muddy roads. Each of 
these clues was studied and found to coincide with imown events. 

These studies completely destroyed the claims of Giulietta and 
Therese to the honor of being the “Immortal Beloved.” A check of 
police lists of the time revealed no woman in Karkbad whom Bee- 
thoven could have known. Another name was put forward, that of 
Amalie Sebald, and a rather powerful case was built in her support. 
But Oscar G. Sonneck, in his Riddle of the Immortal Beloved 
(1927), effectively disposed of this possibility. 

And so the question remains: Who was the “Immortal Beloved”? 
And how was it that the letters were found in Beethoven’s possession? 
Were they never sent? Were they sent and returned? Or were these 
simply copies? Tbe evidence is so bafBing that one sometimes wonders 
whether the letters were not actually addressed to some ima^aiy in- 
dividual, a product of Beethoven’s rich fantasy. 

Between 1809 and 1813 Beethoven was much engrossed with the 
desire of marrying. Deafness had not diminished his ability to com- 
pose, nor had it prevented him from moving in society. He had 
achieved a reputation as a composer of ffie highest talent, and was 

held by some to be the greatest musical genius alive. Between the 
sale of his scores and a yearly grant of 4,000 florins bestowed cm him 
by three Viennese noblemen, his financial position was made tem- 
porarily secure. Though forty years of age, his physical vitality was 
sudi that he aj^ared ten years younger. At this period he spoke 
often of his “feeling for domestici^.” 

For such a romantic spirit, marriage without intense love was im- 
possible. His genius opened to him the loftiest strata of Viennese 
society, where lovely and accomplished Wdimen were not rare. But 
to such women a match with Beethoven was hardly enticing. Sodallyi 
he was considered impulsive, unattractive and crude; financially, ha 
was impoverished. ' 

In his journal for the years 1812 and 1813, by which time his de- 
sire for marriage was quenched, he wrote: “Thou mayest no longer 
be a man, not for thyself, only for others; for thee there is no longer 
happiness except in thyself, in thy art. O God, ^ve me strength to 
conquer myself; nothing must chain me to life. Thus everything con- 
nected with A. will go to destruction.” The last sentence suggests 
stron^y that the woman he had lost was Amalie; unfortunately, Bee- 
thoven’s handwriting was so unclear that the letter A may be another. 

The entry tells us also that Beethoven had come to accept what 
seemed like a divine decree; that henceforth he was to live only for 
his music. But another journal entry some five years later reads: 
“Love alone — ^yes, only love can give you a happier life— O God— let 
me — ^let me finally find one — ^who will strengthen me in virtue — ^who 
will be lawfully mine.” 

He never found the love for which he yearned. But the rmarkable 
powers which had carried him through the greatest spiritual crises 
of his life sustained him to his death. He had said: “I will seize fate 
by the throat; it shall not wholly overcome me.” All his music throu^ 
the first decade of the nineteenth century throbs with this sense of 
victory. Later, a more profound level of his artistic consciousness was 
expressed in music ot the most sublime character,. In such works as 
the Ninth Symphony and the Missa Solemms, most listeners hear the 
vdce of a titanic spirit whose strugg^ and resolutions tiie re- 
sources of language: music whidi works toward an inner peace,, and 
an understanding and acceptance of fife such as few men have ever 

My 6, morning 

M y angel, my all, my very self. Only a few words today, and 
written in pencil, too (your pencil). I shall not know defi- 
nitely till tomorrow where I shall stay; what a waste of time it all is! 
Why this great grief when we face the inevitable? Can our love exist 
except through sacrifices, except by not wishing for everything? 
Can you help it that you are not wholly mine, I not wholly thine? 
Oh God! Behold the beauties of nature, and calm your spirit with 
the contemplation of one’s unavoidable destiny; love demands 
everything, and justly so; so is it with my love for you, your love 
for me. Only you forget so easily that I must live for myself and 
for you. Were we completely united, neither of us would feel these 
pangs. My journey was terrible. I did not arrive here till four o’clock 
yesterday morning. To make up for the lack of horses, the mail 
coach chose another route— but what an awful one! At the last stop 
but one, 1 was warned not to travel at night— to beware of tiie 
forest, but that only spurred me on, and I was wrong; the coach 
had to break down on an awful road, a bottontiess by-road. Had 
it not been for my postilioas, I should have been marooned some- 
where. Esterhas^, travding here on the usual road, had the same 
unhappy fate, though he had eig|ht horses and I onfy four. Yet I 
felt some pieasure in my plight, as I always do when I overcome 
some difficulty. Now to pass quickly to the inner from the outer 
world. &iidy we riiall soon see each other again; today I cannot 
share you tiie observations I have made on my life during 


Ludwig van Beethoven 
these last few days. Were our hearts always dose together, I should 
not be making any such observations. My heart is fuU of many 
things to say to you. Ah! there are moments when I find that lan- 
guage is nothing. Cheer up — remain my true, my only treasure, 
my all, as I am yours; all the rest is in the lap of the gods. 

Your faithful Ludwig 

Monday evening, July 

Y ou SUFFER, MY DEAREST ONE. I have just learned that letters must 
be posted very early. Mondays — Thursdays — ^the only days the 
mail coach goes from here to K. You suffer. Oh, wherever I am, you 
are with me; I am forever conversing with you, though you are not 
with me; bring it about that I can live with you. What a life — in 
this way — ^without you; a prey everywhere to the kindness of peo- 
ple. I t^k I want to deserve this kindness just as little as I actually 
do deserve it. The humility of one man toward another grieves me. 
And when I consider myself in terms of the universe, w^t am I — 
what is even the greatest of mankind? ... I weep when I realize 
that you will probably not hear from me until Saturday. However 
great your love for me — ^mine for you is greater still. But do not 
ever conceal yourself from me. Good night — as befits one taking 
the baths, I must go to sleep. Oh God! — so near! so far! is not 
our love truly a heavenly edifice — as firm, too, as the vault of 

Morning, July 7 

W HILE I AM STILL IN BED my tiiou^ts rush to you, my immortal 
beloved, now cheerfully, now sadly, waiting to see whether fate 
win be kind to us. I can live only if I live completely with you; other- 
wise I caimot live at aU; indeed, 1 have resolved to-wander until I can 
fly into your arms and caU myself truly at home, until I can transport 
my soul, by you enraptured, into anotiier, more spiritual world. Alas, 
it must be so. You must be of good cheer, particularly since you know 
my fiddity to you; never can anyone else possess my heart, never — 
never! Oh God, why must one keep aloof from what one loves so and 

yet my present life in V • is a wretched one. Your love makes 

*Wiai (Vkima) 


Letters to His “Immortal Beloved” 
me the happiest, and at the same time, the unhappiest of men. At my 
age, I need to foDow a definite and fixed routine; is this possible in our 
relationship? My angel, I have just learned that the mail coach leaves 
every day — Whence I must end my letter so that you may receive it 
without delay. Be calm — only by calm contemplation of our present 
mode of life can we achieve our goal of living together. — ^Be calm — 
love me. — ^Today — ^yesterday — ^What tearful longing for you — ^you — 
you — ^my life — ^my ail — ^farewell — oh continue to love me— never 
misjudge the most faithful heart of your beloved L. 
ever thine 
ever mine 
ever ours 






John Stuart Mill 


Not*: The editor's summaries of various omitted passages 
appear italicized and in brackets throughout the text. 


W ILLIAM JAMES DEDICATED his book Pragmatism to the 
memory of John Stuart Mill, who, he said, “would be our 
leader” if he were alive. James, up to the time of his own 
death in 1910, was the best-known phUosopher America had pro- 
duced. It is revealing that he felt such close kinship with the famous 
Englishman who preceded him by a generation. 

The basis of this kinship, and indeed, the key to all that Mill 
did, can be seen in the two words that will always be associated with 
these two thinkers: “utilitarianism” and “pragmatism.” As philo- 
sophic terms, the first was given currency by Mill and the second by 
James. In each case, the use of the term evidenced a desire to em- 
phasize observation as the only genuine basis of any knowledge and 
human experience as the final test of any idea. This emphasis implied 
a consistent effort to deal with all problems in the spirit and with the 
methods of science. 

mill’s goal and plans 

In the fullest sense of the term, John Stuart Mill was a scientific 
philosopher, eminent as few modem thinkers have been. But more 
than that, he was a social philosopher who kept before himself ihe 
objective of improving the political and economic systems, the edu- 
cational system, the legal and moral codes by which civilized men live. 

Mill’s awareness of social problems dates from his early childhood 
end re&cted the enormous influence on him of his strong-minded 

father. James Mill, the author of a history of India, an analysis of the 
mind and works on political economy, had, in a treatise on Govern- 
ment, given great stimulus to the cause of reform. He was the earliest 
and one of the most forceful proponents of the Greatest Happiness 
principle set down by Jeremy Bentham. 

The education that John Stuart Mill received from his father began 
with Greek when the boy was a three-year-old, and went on to in- 
clude a thorough study of Bentham’s system of philosophic radicalisn^. 
From the period of his early manhood, John'Stuart Mill was identifier 
with the radicals whose ideas found an outlet in the “Westminst^ 
Review,” that Bentham had established in 1824. 

What did the Benthamite “Radicals” hope to accomplish? Mill 
conceived their objective as having two aspects: one intellectual, the 
other practical, and neither to be achieved independently of the other. 
Practically, the Radical effort sought to educate the people to the 
point where everyone could at least read and write; to make govern- 
ment more representative of the will of all by extending suffrage and 
reforming the electoral system; to decrease and ultimately abolish the 
inequalities of professional opportunity between the few rich and the 
many poor; to shorten the working hours of the laboring classes and 
raise their standard of living; to make the laws as binding on the 
powerful as on the weak. 

But Mill felt deeply that these practical objectives could never be 
gained unless a scientifically grounded body of theory were perfected 
to prove that basic and widespread improvements could be brought 
about, and to show what methods could be used. Such an objective 
involved not so much the working out of new doctrines in a half- 
dozen established fields, as what amounted to the creation of a whole 
new field of science. What we call social science today probably owes 
as mudi to Mill as to any other Englishman of the nineteenth century. 

mill’s objections to traditional morality 

OF THE MOST basic questions discussed 1^ philosophers is: 
^ what is the nature of go^ and evil? What is tibe ultimate stand- 
ard of ethics? That is the question Mill tries to answer in his brief 
but penetrating work, VtiUtaricanm, 

The tracfitional answers to this question did not satisfy him. For 
example, there was the theological answer, whidi said that moral 
commands we» given to man by a superhuman Being. NfiU found a 
numbm: of difficulties in acc^ting such an answer. One was ffiat sudi 

an assumption renders the rules static. As the will of God, these rules 
could scarcely be the subjects, as other rules were, of the thought and 
debate of rigjht-reasoning men. Rather, they would be alleged the sub- 
jects of interpretation by an “ordained” class which would not feel 
bound by the rules of reason and scientific logic based on observation 
and tested against objective fact. A mysteriously revealed dogma, not 
produced by the mind of man and not to be judged by the mind of 
man, but still to be obeyed by him on the pain of eternal punishment, 
put superstition and bigotry in the place of logic. 

Only too often, as Mill saw it, clerical interpretations of the rules 
of morality resulted in keeping the rich powerful and the poor op- 
pressed. As a result, the prevailing system served the ideals of broth- 
erly love, altruism and universal charity poorly, however worthy its 

Mill further rejected the philosophical premise that questions of 
right and wrong conduct could be settled by reference to intuition, 
to the inner feelings, to some kind of more or less mysterious inner 
voice. In practice, as he saw it, such ideas usually led either to mere 
wishful thinking or to a hypocritical rationalizing of selfish action. 
They lacked, as the theological notions did, a logical proof of their 
nature and an objective test of their worth. 


STANDARD OF MORALS would Mill himself set up? What was 
’ ^ his own exfdanation of the way in which ethical codes come into 
being? Moral codes are produced by the human mind; they represent 
an effort to prescribe those forms of behavior, those individual and 
group practices which will be of maximum utility to the people setting 
up the codes. This answer, Mill felt, placed the whole matter on a 
proper footing and had the effect of putting common sense and reason 
in fte center of die action. 

What makes a ^ven rule of conduct ri^t or good is that following 
the rule results in more social utility than not following it. Contrari- 
wise, if not following a certain rule of conduct results in more social 
utility than following it, that means the rule in question is wrong and 
evil. The terms “utility” and “happiness," as Mill used them, meant 
the same thing. Ther^oie, those rules of conduct are rig^t whidi re- 
sult in the greatest happiness for die greatest number of people. 

Thus, in judging the moral rigjit or wrong of a pven action or rule 
of actjra, hfill's emphasis was not on the intentions of the doN» but 

on the consequences of the action. And in evaluating these conse- 
quences, Mill was careful to stress that it was not simply the utility 
or happiness of the individual doer that was to be taken into account. 
It was the measure of utility for everyone which determined the judg- 
ment. He wrote: 

I must again repeat what the assailants of utilitarianism seldom 
have the justice to acknowledge: that.t|ie happiness which forms 
the utilitarian standard of what is right in conduct is not the 
agent’s own happiness, but that of all concerned. As between his 
own happiness and that of others, utilitarianism requires him 
to be as strictly impartial as a disinterested and benevolent 

It is characteristic of Mill that he should say, immediately follow- 
ing the words just quoted: “In the golden rule of Jesus of Nazareth, 
we have the complete spirit of the ethics of utility. To do as you would 
be done by and to love your neighbor as yourself constitute the ideal 
perfection of utilitarian morality.” 

Mill did not consider the rule of conduct which Jesus expressed a 
good rule simply because Jesus had expressed it, nor because it was 
&e will and command of God, but because it would logically lead 
to the maximum human utility, to the greatest happiness of the great- 
est number. 

Moreover, to carry out the implications of the golden rule, as Mill 
construed it, to apply it in the actual life of a people would mean to 
do far more than orthodox thinkers seemed willing to do. It would 
mean changing and improving not only personal attitudes, manners, 
feelings. It would also mean changing and improving the political 
and economic institutions, changing laws of property, abolishing privi- 
leges, equalizing opportunities, adjusting taxation and other such 
matters. Scientific method, utilitarian morality and democracy went 
hand in hand. 


Referring to his great essay On Liberty, Mill declares in his Auto- 
biography: “None of my writings has b^ either so carefully com- 
posed or so sedulously corrected as this.” Though by no means a 
lengthy volume, it had, he felt, a central place in his philosophy. De- 
scribing its birth and growth, he adds: “I had at first plaimed and 

written it as a short essay in 1854. It was in mo unting the steps of the 
Capitol in January, 1855, that the thought first arose of converting 
it into a volume. . . , After it had been written as usual twice over, 
we [he and his wife] kept it by us, brin^g it out from time to time 
and going througjh it de novo, reading, weighing and criticizing every 

In writing this book, Mill eridently had a number of purposes in 
mind. For one thing, he wanted to deliver a blow a gainst conformity, 
a creeping blight which Mill considered one of the deadliest of social 
maladies. He also wanted to do what had never yet been done in any 
clear and effective way: to define the limits beyond which society 
should not interfere with the individual, to define and justify the area 
within which the individual should be allowed to go his own way. 


T N OUR TIMES,” says Mill, “from the highest class of society down to 

the lowest, everyone lives as under the eye of a hostile and dreaded 
censorship. . . . The individual or the family do not ask themselves: 
what do I prefer? or, what would suit my character and disposition? 
or, what would allow the best and highest in me to have fair play and 
enable it to grow and thrive? They ask themselves: what is suitable to 
my position? what is usually done by persons of my station? ... I 
do not mean that they choose what is customary in preference to what 
suits their own inclination. It does not occur to them to have any in- 
clination, except for what is customary. Thus the mind itself is bowed 
to the yoke; even in what people do for pleasure, conformity is the 
first thkg thought of. . . .” 

Hie intellectual and moral price paid for this conformity, MSll 
points out, is appalling. People are afraid of being thought radcal or 
even UbeM. Tbey are afraid of arguing or debating public issues, 
except within officially approved limits. They are afraid of ideas in 
general, so anxious are they to avoid the suspicion of having danger- 
ous ones. In the end, they are a&aid to thinL Mind and character 
alike are stultified. 

Where, then, should the line be drawn between the area within 
which the individual should have complete freedom and the area 
within which society should have the legitimate power to apply penal- 
ties, either legal or non-legal, to control him and insure his conform- 
ity? Mill answers this question in a famous passage* one of the mort 
frequently quoted from On liberty: 

The object of this essay is to assert one very simple principle, 
as entitled to govern absolutely the dealings of society with the 
individual in the way of compulsion and control, whether the 
means used be physical force in the form of legal penalties or 
the moral coercion of public opinion. That principle is: that the 
sole end for which men are warranted, individually or collec- 
tively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their 
number is self-protection. That the^pnly purpose for whic^ 
power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized 
community against his will is to prevent harm to others. \ 

The “harm” which Mill had in mind was, of course, objective ana 
tangible harm. This was on no account to be confused with harm that\ 
mi^t be imagined to result from ideas, whether considered by the 
government or by the majority of the people to be erroneous or dan- 
gerous. Any pressure or penalty exerted by government to discourage 
or suppress ideas or doctrines is, in its net effects, socially detrimental. 
Mill held, whether the ideas are right or wrong, and whether the sup- 
pressing is done in accordance with the majority will or not. 

“If all mankind minus one were of one opinion,” Mill says, “and 
only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no 
more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the 
power, would be justified in silencing mankind. ... If the opinion 
is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for 
truth; if wrong, they lose what is almost as great a benefit: the clearer 
perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision 
with error.” . 

“tyranny of the majority” 

Mill sensed that the growth of economic productivity and the pres- 
sures of democratic politics, in the narrower sense of the term, created 
dangers by placing the individual at the mercy of social forces that 
would be increasin^y difficult to resist. Son» of the most challenging 
parts of Mill’s exposition of liberty are ccmcemed with the “tyranny 
oi die majority,” which, he maintains, even though it may invoke no 
legal pentd^, can be as vicious as any othor Idnd of tyranny. 

Protection, he says, “against the tyranny of the ma^trate is not 
enough: there must be protection also against the granny of the pre- 
vailing o|[Mnion; against the tendency of wodsty to impose, by other 

means than civil penalties, its own ideas and practices as rules of con- 
duct on those who dissent from them; to fetter the development and, 
if possible, prevent the formation of any individuality not in harmony 
with its ways. . . 


T> ARTLY BECAUSE HE LACKED the means to hire tutors of his choosing 
^ and partly because he possessed intense convictions on the subject 
of education, James Mill himself undertook the instruction of his son. 
The boy was started on the Greek vocabulary at the age of three. Be- 
fore he was eig^it, he had read in the original Aesop’s Fabks, Herodo- 
tus, Xenophon, Diogenes Laertius, six dialogues of Plato and other 
Greek works. Along the way he went through arithmetic— “and I • 
well remember its disagreeableness”— and, “with great delight,” began 
the study of history with no less formidable volumes than those of 
Hume, Gibbon and Plutarch. 

“In my eighth year,” says Mill in his Autobiography, “I com- 
menced learning Latin in conjunction with a younger sister, to whom 
I taught it as I went on, and who afterward repeated the lessons to 
my father; and from this time, other sisters and brothers being suc- 
cessively added as pupils, a considerable part of my day’s work con- 
sisted of this preparatory teaching.” Mill stated his ^slike of the task, 
but added an acute comment which shows that even an eight-year-old 
teacher absorbs one of the greatest values of giving instruction: “I, 
however, derived from this discipline the great advantage of learning 
more thoroughly and retaining more lastingly the things which I was 
set to teach; perhaps, too, the practice it afforded in explaining 
difficulties to others may even at that age have been useful.” 

When literature, logic, political economy and physical science had 
been added to his subjects. Mill could tnily say ffiat he was ^ven 
“during the years of childhood an amount of knowledge in what are 
considered ffie higher branches of education which is seldom ac- 
quired (if acquired at all) until the age of manhood. ... I started, 
I may fairly say, wth an advantage of a quarter of a century over my 


Under these circomstaiKes, it is hardly surprising that while Mill 
was still in his teens, he was discussing advanced intellectual questions 

with some of the leading figures of the day — Bentham, Ricardo and 
Grote, among others. 

In 1822, when he was sixteen, he formed a small club of likeminded 
young men and called it the Utilitarian Society, which name repre- 
sented the first use of the term “utilitarian” to designate a philosophi- 
cal attitude. The Socie^ had a life of about three and a half years. A 
few years later Mill was one of the leading spirits in founding a de- 
bating sodety in London, at whose meeting; ^ select group of able 
minds (intended with one another. Like his faAer, he was one of the 
principal contributors to the “Westminster Review” over many years. 
His associates in these undertakings were often called Utilitarian 
Radicals or philosophic Radicals. They considered both traditional 
parties, Tory and l^g, too conservative and aristocratic to serve 
the cause of the people and of progress. 

Like his father, Mill occupied an important post in the East India 
Company and exercised, as much as he could, a liberaliang influence 
on British policy in India. In 1851, when he was forty-five, he married 
a widow, ]^. Taylor, whom he had known and admired for twenty 
years. His praises of her character and mind are high, and she greatly 
aided him in some of his most important writings. Mill was elected a 
Member of Parliament (1865-68) in spite of his refusal to spend any 
money for a campaign. He died in 1873, at the age of sixty-seven. 

mill’s influence 

'T*HE PHILOSOPHY of John Stuart Mill was a natural outgrowth of 

the great empirical tradition, which stresses observation, experi- 
ment, exp^ence and practical application, as embodied in the works 
of Francis Bacon, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and David Hume. 
Mill not only reflected the spirit of that tradition, but carried it further, 
especially into sodal fields and into the theory of logic and scientific 

His influence was particularly notable on philosophers like Huxley, 
William James and John Dewey. It was felt in eastern Europe, among 
the classic Russian social thinkers of the nineteenth century, and 
to a certain extent in Far Eastern countries. Contemporary move- 
ments such as pragmatism, instrumentalism, positivism and humanism 
owe much, directly ot indirectly, to John Stuart Mill. His work is 
read and studied wherever philosophy is tau^. 

Portrait of John Stuart Mill. 

[Miirs first chapter, entitled “General Remarks,” notes that from 
the dawn of philosophy the question concerning the foundation of 
morality has been the main problem in speculative thought. Since 
men’s sentiments are greatly influenced by what they suppose to be 
the effect of things upon their happiness, the principle, of utility — 
what Jeremy Bentham called “the greatest happiness principle ’ — 
has had a large share in forming moral doctrines. This essay will be 
an attempt to elucidate the Utilitarian or Happiness theory, and an 
examination of the rational grounds that can be given for accepting 
or rejecting the utilitarian formula.] 


What Utilitarianism Is 

A PASSING REMARK is all that needs be given to the ignorant blunder 
of supposing that those who stand up for utility as the test of 
right and wrong, use the term in that restricted and merely colloquial 
sense in which utility is opposed to pleasure. An apology is due to the 
philosophical opponents of utilitarianism, for even the momentary ap- 
pearance of ctmfounding them with anyone capable of so absurd a 
misconception j which is the more extraordinary, inasmuch as the con- 
trary accusation, of referring everythmg to pleasure, and that tTO in 
its grossest form, is another of the common charges against utflitari- 
anism: and, as has been pointedly remarked by an able writer, the 
same sort (rf persons, and often the very same persons, denounce the 
theory “as impracticably dry when the word utility precedes the word 
pleasure, as too practicably voluptuous when the word pleasure 
precedes the word utility.” Those vdio know anything about the 


John Stuart Mill 

matter are aware that every writer, from Epicurus to Bentbam, who 
maintained the theory of utility, meant by it, not something to be 
contradistinguished from pleasure, but pleasure itself, together with 
exemption from pain; and instead of opposing the useful to the agree- 
able or the ornamental, have always declared that the useful means 
these, among other things. Yet the common herd, including the herd 
of writers, not only in newspapers and periodicals, but in books of 
weight and pretension, are perpetually fallii^^into this shallow mis- 
take. Having caught up the word utilitarian, while knowing nothing 
whatever about it but its sound, they habitually express by it the 
rejection, or the neglect, of pleasure in some of its forms; of beauty, of 
ornament, or of amusement. Nor is the term thus ignorantly misap- 
plied solely in disparagement, but occasionally in compliment; as 
though it implied superiority to frivolity and the mere pleasures of the 
moment. And this perverted use is the only one in which the word is 
popularly known, and the one from which the new generation are 
acquiring their sole notion of its meaning. Those who introduced the 
word, but who had for many years discontinued it as a distinctive 
appellation, may well feel themselves called upon to resume it, if by 
doing so they can hope to contribute anything toward rescuing it 
from this utter degradation.* 

The creed which accepts as the foundation of morals. Utility, or the 

) Greatest Happiness Principle, holds that actions are right in propor- 
tion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce 
the reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure, and the 
absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain, and the privation of pleasure. 
To ^ve a clear view of the moral standard set up by the theory, much 
more requires to be said; in particular, what things it includes in the 
ideas of pain and pleasure; and to what extent this is left an open 
question. But these supplementary explanations do not affect the 
theory of life on which tUs theory of morality is grounded — ^namely, 
that pleasure, and freedom from pain, are the only things desirable as 
ends; and that all desirable things (which are as-numerous in the 

* The author of this essay has reason for believing himself to be the first person 
v^o brou^t the WOTd utilitarian into use. He did not invent it, but adopted it 
from a passing expression in Mr. Galt’s Annals of the Parish. After using it as 
a designation for several years, he and others abandoned it from a growing dis- 
like of anything resembling a badge or watchword of sectarian distinction. But 
as a name for one single opinion, not a set of opinions — to denote the recogni- 
tion of utility as a standard, not any particular way of applying it— the term 
8tq>plies n want in the language, and offers, in many cases, a convenient mode 
of avoiding tiresome circunfiocntion. note.} 



utilitarian as in any other scheme) are desirable either for the pleas- 
ure inherent in themselves, or as means to the promotion of pleasure 
and the prevention of pain. 

Now, such a theory of life excites in many minds, and among them 
in some of the most estimable in feeling and purpose, inveterate dis- 
like. To suppose that life has (as they express it) no higher end than 
pleasure — ^no better and nobler object of desire and pursuit — ^they 
designate as utterly mean and groveling; as a doctrine worthy only of 
swine, to whom the followers of Epicurus were, at a very early period, 
contemptuously likened; and modem holders of the doctrine are oc- 
casionally made the subject of equally polite comparisons by its Ger- 
man, French, and English assailants. 

When thus attacked, the Epicureans have always answered, that it 
is not they, but their accusers, who represent human nature in a 
degrading light; since the accusation supposes human beings to be 
capable of no pleasures except those of which swine are capable. If 
this supposition were true, the charge could not be gainsaid, but would 
then be no longer an imputation; for if the sources of pleasure were 
precisely the same to human beings and to swine, the rule of life which 
is good enough for the one would be good enough for the other. The 
comparison of the Epicurean life to that of beasts is felt as degrading, 
precisely because a beast’s pleasures do not satisfy a human being’s 
conceptions of happiness. Human beings have faculties more elevated 
than the animal appetites, and when once made concious of them, do 
not regard anything as happiness which does not include their gratifi- 
cation. I do not, indeed, consider the Epicureans to have been by any 
means faultless in drawing out their scheme of consequences from the 
utilitarian principle. To do this in any sufficient manner, many Stoic, 
as well as Christian elements require to be included. But there is no 
known Epicurean theory of life which does not assign to the pleasures 
of the intellect, of the feelings and imagination, and of the moral 
sentiments, a much higiher value as pleasures than to those of mere 
sensation. It must be admitted, however, that utilitarian writers in 
general have placed the superiority of mental over bodily pleasures 
chiefly in the greater permanency, safety, uncostliness, etc., of tlw 
former — ^that is, in their circumstantial advantages rather than in their 
intrinsic nature. And on all these points utilitarians have fully proved 
their case; but they miglit have taken the other, and, as it may be 
called, higiher ground, with entire consistency. It is quite compatible 
with the principle of utility to recognize the fact, that some kiivb of 


John Stuart Mill 

pleasure are more desirable and more valuable than others. It would 
be absurd that while, in estimating all other things, quality is con* 
sidered as well as quantity, the estimation of pleasures should be sup- 
posed to depend on quantity alone. 

If I am asked, what I mean by difference of quality in pleasures, or 
what makes one pleasure more valuable than ano&er, merely as a 
pleasure, except its being greater in amount, there is but one possible 
answer. Of two pleasures, if there be one to ^which all or almost all 
who have experience of both give a decided preference, irrespective of 
any feeling of moral obligation to prefer it, that is the more desirable 
pleasure. If one of the two is, by those who are competently acquainted 
with both, placed so far above Ae other that they prefer it, even thou^ 
knowing it to be attended with a greater amount of discontent, and 
would not resign it for any quantity of the other pleasure which their 
nature is capable of, we are justified in ascribing to the preferred en- 
joyment a superiority in quality, so far outweighing quantity as to 
render it, in comparison, of small account. 

Now it is an unquestionable fact that those who are equally ac- 
quainted with, and equally capable of appreciating and enjoying, both, 
do give a most marked preference to the manner of existence which 
employs their higher faculties. Few human creatures would consent to 
be changed into any of the lower animals, for a promise of the fullest 
allowance of a beast’s pleasures; no intelligent human being would 
consent to be a fool, no instructed person would be an ignoramus, no 
person of feeling and conscience would be selfish and base, even 
though they should be persuaded that the fool, the dunce, or the 
rascal is better satisfied with his lot than they are with theirs. They 
would not resign what they possess more than he for the most com- 
plete satisfaction of all the desires which they have in common with 
him. If they ever fancy they would, it is only in cases of unhappiness 
so extreme, that to escape from it they would exchange their lot for 
almost any other, however undesirable in their own eyes. A being of 
higher faculties requires more to make him happy, is~capable probably 
of more acute suffering, and certainly accessible to it at more points, 
than one of an inferior type; but in spite of these liabilities, he can 
never really wish to sink into what he feels to be a lower grade of 
existence. We may ^ve what explanation we please of this unwilling- 
ness; we may attribute it to pride, a name wUch is pven indiscrimi- 
nately to some of the mtst mi to some of the least estimable feetings 
of wMch m ankin d are capable: we may refer it to the Iqve liberty 



and personal independence, an appeal to which was with the Stoics 
one of the most effective means for the inculcation of it; to the love of 
power, or to the love of excitement, both of which do really enter into 
and contribute to it; but its most appropriate appellation is a sense of 
dignity, which all human beings possess in one form or other, and in 
some, though by no means in exact, proportion to their higher facul- 
ties, and which is so essential a part of the happiness of those in whom 
it is strong, that nothing which conflicts with it could be, otherwise 
than momentarily, an object of desire to them. Whoever supposes that 
this preference takes place at a sacriflce of happiness — ^that the supe- 
rior being, in anything like equal circumstances, is not happier than 
the inferior — confounds the two very different ideas, of happiness, 
and content. It is indisputable that the being whose capacities of en- 
joyment ate low, has the greatest chance of having them fully satisfied; 
and a highly endowed being will always feel that any happiness which 
he can look for, as the world is constituted, is imperfect. But he can 
learn to bear its imperfections, if they are ^t all bearable; and they will 
not make him envy the being who is indeed unconscious of the im- 
perfections, but only because he feels not at all the good which those 
imperfections qualify. It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than 
a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. 
And if the fool, or the pig, are of a different opinion, it is because they 
only know their own side of the question. The other party to the 
-comparison knows both sides. 

It may be objected that many who are capable of the higher pleas- 
ures, occasionally, under the influence of temptation, postpone them 
to the lower. But this is quite compatible with a full appreciation of 
the intrinsic superiority of the higher. Men often, from infirmity of 
character, make their election for the nearer good, though they 
know it to be the less valuable; and this no less when the choice is 
between two bodily pleasures, than when it is between bodily and 
mental. Hiey pursue sensual indulgences to the injury of health, 
though perfectly aware that health is the greater good. It may be 
further objected, that many who begin witii youthful enthusiasm for 
everything noble, as they advance in years sink into indolence and 
selfishness. But I do not believe ffiat those who undergo this very 
common change , voluntarily choose the lower description of pleasures 
in preference to the hig^r. I believe that before they devote them- 
selves exclusively to the one, they have already become incapable of 
the other. Capacity for tiie nobler feelings is in most natures a- very 


John Stuart Mill 

tender plant, easily killed, not only by hostile influences, but by mere 
want of sustenance; and in the majority of young persons it speedily 
dies away if the occupations to which their position in life has devoted 
them, and the society into which it has thrown them, are not favorable 
to keeping that higher capacity in exercise. Men lose their high aspira- 
tions as they lose their intellectual tastes, because they have not time 
or opportunity for indulging them; and they addict themselves to 
inferior pleasures, not because they deliberal^ prefer them, but be- 
cause they are either the only ones to which they have access, or the 
only ones which they are any longer capable of enjoying. It may be 
questioned whether anyone who has remained equ^y susceptible to 
both classes of pleasures, ever knowingly and calmly preferred the 
lower; though many, in tdl ages, have broken down in an ineffectual 
attempt to combine both. 

From this verdict of the only competent judges, I apprehend there 
can be no appeal. On a question which is the best worth having of two 
pleasures, or which of two modes of existence is the most grateful to 
the feelings, apart from its moral attributes and from its consequences, 
the judgment of those who are qualified by knowledge of both, or, if 
they differ, that of the majority among them, must be admitted as final. 
And there needs be the less hesitation to accept this judgment respect- 
ing the quality of pleasures, since there is no other tribunal to be 
referred to even on the question of quantity. What means are there of 
determining which is the acutest of two pains, or the intensest of two 
pleasurable sensations, except the general suffrage of those who are 
familiar with both? Neither pains nor pleasures are homogeneous, and 
pain is always heterogeneous with pleasure. What is there to decide 
whether a particular pleasure is worth purchasing at the cost of a 
particular pain, except the feelings and judgment of the experienced? 
When, therefore, those feelings and judgment declare the pleasures 
derived from the higher faculties to be preferable in kind, apart from 
the question of intensity, to those of which the animal nature, dis- 
joined from the higher faculties, is suspectible, they~are entitled on this 
subject to the same regard. 

I have dwelt on this point, as being a necessary part of a perfectly 
just conc^>tion of Utili^ or Happiness, considered as the directive 
rule of human conduct. But it is by no means an indispmsable condi- 
tion to die acceptance of the utilitarian standard; for that standard is 
not the agmt’s own greatest happiness, but the greatest amount of 
happiness all together; and if it may possibly be doubted whether a 



noble character is always the happier for its nobleness, there can be 
no doubt that it makes other people happier, and that the world in 
general is immensely a gainer by it. Utilitarianism, therefore, could 
only attain its end by the general cultivation of nobleness of character, 
even if each individual were only benefited by the nobleness of others, 
and his own, so far as happiness is concerned, were a sheer deduction 
from the benefit. But the bare enunciation of such an absurdity as this 
last, renders refutation superfluous. 

According to the Greatest Happiness Principle, as above explained, 
the ultimate end, with reference to and for die sake of which all other 
things are desirable (whether we are considering our own good or that 
of other people), is an existence exempt as far as possible from pain, 
and as rich as possible in enjoyments, both in point of quantity and 
quality; the test of quality, and the rule for measuring it against 
quantity, being the preference felt by those who in their opportunities 
of experience, to which must be added their habits of self-conscious- 
ness and self-observation, are best furnished with the means of com- 
parison. This, being, according to the utilitarian opinion, the end of 
human action, is necessarily also the standard of morality; which may 
accordingly be defined, the rules and precepts for human conduct, by 
the observance of which an existence such as has been described 
might be, to the greatest extent possible, secured to all mankind; and 
not to them only, but, so far as the nature of things admits, to the 
whole sentient creation. 

Against this doctrine, however, arises another class of objectors, 
who say that happiness, in any form, cannot be the rational purpose of 
human life and action; because, in the first place, it is unattainable: 
and they contemptuously ask. What right hast thou to be happy? a 
question which Mr. Carlyle clenches by the addition. What right, a 
short time ago, hadst thou even to be? Next, they say, that men can do 
without happiness; that all noble human beings have felt this, and 
could not have become noble but by learning the lesson of Entsagen, 
or renunciation; which lesson, thoroughly learned and submitted to, 
they affirm to be the beginning and necessary condition of all virtue. 

The first of these objections would go to the root of the matter were 
it well founded; for if no happiness is to be had at all by human 
beings, the a ttainment of it cannot be the end of morality, or of any 
rational conduct. Thougjh, even in that case, something might still be 
said for the utilitarian theory; sin<» utility includes not solely the pur- 


John Stuart Mill 

suit of happiness, but the prevention or mitigation of unhappiness; 
and if the former aim be chimerical, there will be all the greater scope 
and more imperative need for the latter, so long at least as manlrind 
think fit to live, and do not take refuge in the simultaneous act of 
suicide recommended imder certain conditions by Novalis. When, 
however, it is thus positively asserted to be impossible that h uman life 
should be happy, the assertion, if not something like a verbal quibble, 
is at least an exaggeration. If by happiness^ be meant a continuity of 
highly pleasurable excitement, it is evident enough that this is impos4 
sible. A state of exalted pleasure lasts only moments, or in some cases,\ 
and with some intermissions, hours or days, and is the occasional '^ 
brilliant flash of enjoyment, not its permanent and steady flame. Of 
this the philosophers who have taught that happiness is the end of life 
were as fully aware as those who taunt them. The happiness which Aey 
meant was not a life of rapture; but moments of such, in an existence 
made up of few and transitory pains, many and various pleasures, with 
a decided predominance of die active over the passive, and having as 
the foundation of the whole, not to expect more from life than it is 
capable of bestowing. A life thus composed, to those who have been 
fortunate enough to obtain it, has always appeared worthy of the 
name of happiness. And such an existence is even now the lot of many, 
during some considerable portion of their lives. The present wretched 
education, and wretched social arrangements, are the only real hin- 
drance to its being attainable by almost all. 

The objectors perhaps may doubt whether human beings, if taught 
to consider happiness as the end of life, would be satisfied with such 
a moderate share of it. But great numbers of mankind have been satis- 
fied with much less. The main constituents of a satisfied life appear to 
be two, either of which by itself is often found sufficient for the pur- 
pose: tranquillity, and excitement. With much tranquillity, many find 
that th^ can be content with very little pleasure: with much excite- 
ment, many can reconcile themselves to a considerable quantity of 
pain. There is assuredly no inherent impossibility in enabling even 
the mass of mankind to unite both; since the two are so far bom being 
incompatible that they are in natural allismce, the prolongation of 
either being a preparation for, and exciting a wish for, the other. 
It is (mly ffiose in whom indolence amounts to a vice, ffiat do not 
desire excitement after an interval of repose: it is only those in 
whom the need of exdtemmit is a disease, that feel the tranquillity 
which follows excitement dull and insipid, instead of pleasurable in 



direct proportion to the excitement which preceded it. When people 
who are tolerably fortunate in their outward lot do not find in life 
sufficient enjoyment to make it valuable to them, the cause gen- 
erally is, caring for nobody but themselves. To those who have neither 
public nor private affections, the exdtements of life are much cur- 
tailed, and in any case dwindle in value as the time approaches when 
all selfish interests must be terminated by death: wMe those who 
leave after them objects of personal affection, and especially those who 
have also cultivated a fellow-feeling with the collective interests of 
mankind, retain as lively an interest in life cm the eve of death as in 
the vigor of youth and health. Next to selfishness, the principal cause 
which makes life unsatisfactory is want of mental cultivation. A culti- 
vated mind — do not mean ffiat of a philosopher, but any mind to 
which the fountains of knowledge have been opened, and which has 
been taught, in any tolerable degree, to exercise its faculties — ^finds 
sources of inexhaustible interest in all that surrounds it; in the objects 
of nature, the achievements of art, die imaginations of poetry, the 
incidents of history, the ways of mankind, past and present, and their 
prospects in the future. It is possible, indeed, to become indifferent to 
all t^, and that too without having exhausted a thousandth part of it; 
but only when one has had from the beginning no moral or human 
interest in these things, and has sought in them only the gratification 
of curiosity. 

Now there is absolutely no reason in the nature of things why an 
amount of mental culture sufficient to ^ve an intelligent interest in 
these objects of contemplation should not be the inheritance of every 
one bom in a civilized country. As littie is there an inherent necessity 
that any human being should be a selfish egotist, devoid of every 
fftftling or care but those which center in his own miserable individ- 
uality. Something far superior to this is sufficiently common even now, 
to give ample earnest of what the human species may be made. Gen- 
uine private affections, and a sincere interest in the public good, are 
possible, thou^ in unequal degrees, to every rightly brought up hu- 
man being. In a world in which there is so much to interest, so much 
to enjoy, and so much also to correct and improve, every one who has 
this moderate amount of moral and intellectual requisites is capable of 
an existence which may be called enviable; and unless such a ^rson, 
through bad laws, or sul^ction to the will of others, is denied the 
liberty to use the sources of happiness within his reach, he will not 
fail to iBnd this enviable existence, if he escape the positive evils of 


John Stuart Mill 

life, the great sources of physical and mental suffering — ^such as indi- 
gence, disease, and the unl^dness, worthlessness, or premature loss 
of objects of affection. The main stress of the problem lies, therefore, 
in the contest with these calamities, from which it is a rare good for- 
tune entirely to escape; which, as things now are, cannot be obviated, 
and often cannot be in any material degree mitigated. Yet no one 
whose opinion deserves a moment’s consideration can doubt that most 
of the great positive evils of the world are.u^ themselves removable,/ 
and will, if human affairs continue to improve, be in the end reduced 
within narrow limits. Poverty, in any sense implying suffering, may be\ 
completely extinguished by the wisdom of society, combined with the \ 
good sense and providence of individuals. Even that most intractable ' 
of enemies, disease, may be indefinitely reduced in dimensions by 
good physical and mord education, and proper control of noxious 
influences; while the progress of science holds out a promise for the 
future of still more ^ect conquests over this detestable foe. And 
every advance in that direction relieves us from some, not only of the 
chances which cut short our own lives, but, what concerns us still 
more, which deprive us of those in whom our happiness is wrapped 
up. As for vicissitudes of fortune, and other disappointments connected 
with worldly circumstances, these are principally the effect either of 
gross imprudence, of ill-regulated desires, or of bad or imperfect 
social institutions. All the grand sources, in short, of human suffering 
are in a great degree, many of them almost entirely, conquerable by 
human care and effort; and though their removal is grievously slow 
— though a long succession of generations will perish in the breach 
before the conquest is completed, and this world becomes all that, if 
■ will and knowledge were not wanting, it might easily be made— yet 
every mind sufficiently intelligent and generous to bear a part, how- 
ever small and inconspicuous, in the endeavor, will draw a noble enjoy- 
ment from the contest itself, which he would not for any bribe in the 
form of selfish indulgence consent to be without. 

And this leads to the true estimation of what is slud by the objectors 
concerning the possibility, and the obligation, of learning to do with- 
out happiness. Unquestionably it is possible to do without happiness; 
it is d^e involuntarily by nineteen-twentieths of mankind, even in 
ffiose parts of our present world which are least deep in barbarism; 
and it often has to be done voluntarily by the hero or the martyr, for 
the sake of something which he prizes more than his individual happi- 
ng. But this something, what is it, uxiless the happiness of others, or 



some of the requisites of happiness? It is noble to be capable of resign- 
ing entirely one’s own portion of happiness, or chances of it: but, after 
all, this self-sacrifice must be for some end; it is not its own end; and 
if we are told that its end is not happiness, but virtue, which is better 
than happiness, I ask, would the sacrifice be made if the hero or 
martyr did not believe that it would earn for others immunity from 
similar sacrifices? Would it be made if he thought that his renunciation 
of happiness for himself would produce no fruit for any of his fellow 
creatures, but to make their lot like his, and place them also in the 
condition of persons who have renounced happiness? All honor to 
those who can abnegate for themselves the personal enjoyment of life, 
when by such renunciation they contribute worthily to increase the 
amount of happiness in the world; but he who does it, or professes to 
do it, for any other purpose, is no more deserving of admiration than 
the ascetic mounted on his pillar. He may be an inspiriting proof of 
what men can do, but assuredly not an example of what they should. 

Though it is only in a very imperfect state of the world’s arrange- 
ments that any one can best serve the happiness of others by the abso- 
lute sacrifice of his own, yet so long as the world is in that imperfect 
state, I fully acknowledge that the readiness to make such a sacrifice 
is the highest virtue which can be found in man. I will add, that in this 
condition of the world, paradoxical as the assertion may be, the con- 
scious ability to do without happiness gives the best prospect of real- 
izing such happiness as is attainable. For nothing except that con- 
sciousness can raise a person above the chances of life, by making him 
feel that, let fate and fortune do their worst, they have not power to 
subdue him: which, once felt, frees him from excess of anxiety con- 
cerning the evils of life, and enables him, like many a Stoic in the 
worst times of the Roman Empire, to cultivate in tranquillity the 
sources of satisfaction accessible to him, without concerning himself 
about the uncertainty of their duration, any more than about their 
inevitable end. 

Meanwhile, let utilitarians never cease to claim the morality of self- 
devotion as a possession which belongs by as good a right to them, as 
either to the Stoic or to the Transcendentalist. The utilitarian morality 
does recognize in human beings the power of sacrificing their own 
greatest good for the good of others. It only refuses to admit that the 
sacrifice is itself a good. A sacrifice which does not increase, or tend 
to increase, the sum total of happiness, it considers as wasted. The 
only self-renunciation which it applauds, is devotion to the happiness* 


John Stuart Mill 

or to some of the means of happiness, of others; either of mankind 
collectively, or of individuals within the limits imposed by the collec- 
tive interests of mankind. 

I must again repeat, what the assailants of utilitarianism seldom 
have the justice to acknowledge, that the happiness which forms the 
utilitarian standard of what is rigiht in conduct, is not the agent’s own 
happiness, but that of all concerned. As between his own happiness 
and that of others, utilitarianism requires him to be as strictly im-j 
partial as a disinterested and benevolent spectator. In the golden 
rule of Jesus of Nazareth, we read the complete spirit of the ethics 
of utility. To do as you wordd be done by, and to love your neighbor 
as yourself, constitute the ideal perfection of utilitarian morality. 
As the means of making the nearest approach to this ideal, utility 
would enjoin, first, that laws and social arrangements should place 
the happiness, or (as speaking practically it may be called) the in- 
terest, of every individual, as nearly as possible in harmony with 
the interest of the whole; and seconAy, that education and opinion, 
which have so vast a power over human character, should so use 
that power as to establish in the mind of every individual an indis- 
soluble association between his own happiness and the good of the 
whole; especially between his own happiness and the practice of such 
modes of conduct, negative and positive, as regard for the imiversal 
happiness prescribes; so that not only he may be unable to conceive 
the possibility of happiness to himself, consistently with conduct op- 
posed to the general good, but also that a direct impulse to promote 
the general good may be in every individual one of the habitual 
motives of action, and the sentiments connected therewith may fill 
a large and prominent place in every human being’s sentient existence. 
If the impugners of the utilitarian morality represented it to their 
own minds in this its true character, I know not what recommenda- 
tion possessed by any other morality they could possibly affirm to 
be wanting to it; what more beautiful or more exited developments 
of human nature any other ethical system can be supposed to foster, 
or what springs of action, not accessible to the utilitarian, such sys- 
tems rely on for giving effect to their mandates. 

The objectors to utilitarianism cannot always be charged with 
r^resenting it in a discreditable ligjht. On the contrary, those among 
thmi who entertain anything like a just idea of its disinterested char- 
acter, sometimes find fault with its standard as being too hig^ for 
htipumi^. They say it is exacting too much to reqau;p that people 



shall always act from the inducement of promoting the general in- 
terests of society. But this is to mistake the very meaning of a stand- 
ard of morals, and confound the rule of action with the motive of it. 

It is the business of ethics to tell us what are our duties, or by what 
test we may know them; but no system of ethics requires that the sole 
motive of dl we do shall be a feeling of duty; on the contrary, ninety- 
nine hundredths of all our actions are done from other motives, and 
rightly so done, if the rule of duty does not condemn them. It is the 
more unjust to utilitarianism that this particular misapprehension 
should be made a ground of objection to it, inasmuch as utilitarian 
moralists have gone beyond almost all others in af&rming that the 
motive has nothing to do with the morality of the action, though 
much with the worth of the agent. He who saves a fellow creature 
from drowning does what is morally right, whether his motive be 
duty, or the hope of being paid for his trouble; he who betrays the 
friend that trusts him is guilty of a crime, even if his object be to 
serve another friend to whom he is under greater obligations. But to 
speak only of actions done from the motive of duty, and in direct 
obedience to principle: it is a misapprehension of the utilitarian mode 
of thought, to conceive it as implying that people should fix their 
minds upon so wide a generality as the world, or society at large. 
The great majority of good actions are intended not for the benefit of 
the world, but for that of individuals, of which the good of the world 
is made up; and the thoughts of the most virtuous man need not on 
these occasions travel beyond the particular persons concerned, ex- 
cept so far as is necessary to assure himself that in benefiting them 
he is not violating the rights, that is, the legitimate and authorized 
expectations, of anyone else. The multiplication of happiness is, ac- 
cording to the utilitarian ethics, the object of virtue: the occasions on 
which any person (except one in a thousand) has it in his power to 
do this on an extended scale, in other words to be a public benefactor, 
are but exceptional; and on these occasions alone is he called on to 
consider public utility; in every other case, private utility, the interest 
or happiness of some few persons, is all he has to attend to. Those 
alone, the influence of whose actions extends to society in general, 
need concern themselves habitually about so large an object. In the 
case of abstinences indeed — of things which people forbear to do 
from moral cemsiderations, thou^ the consequences in the particular 
case might be b^eficial — rt would be unworthy of an intelligent agent 
not to be consciously aware that the action is of a class which, if prac- 


John Stuart Mill 

ticed generally, would be generally injurious, and that this is the 
ground of the obligation to abstain from it. The amount of regard 
for the public interest implied in this recognition is no greater than 
is demanded by every system of morals, for they all enjoin to abstain 
from whatever is manifestly pernicious to society. 

The same considerations dispose of another reproach against the 
doctrine of utility, founded on a still grosser misconception of the pur- 
pose of a standard of morality, and of the meaning of the words 
right and wrong. It is often affirmed that utiUtarianism renders mei 
cold and unsympathizing; that it chills their moral feelings toward^ 
individuals; that it makes them regard only the dry and hard con-1 
sideration of the consequences of actions, not taking into their moral 
estimate the qualities from which those actions emanate. If the as- 
sertion means that they do not allow their judgment respecting the 
rightness or wrongness of an action to be influenced by their opin- 
ion of the qualities of the person who does it, this is a complaint not 
against utilitarianism, but against having any standard of morality at 
aU; for certainly no known ethical standard decides an action to be 
good or bad because it is done by a good or a bad man, still less be- 
cause done by an amiable, a brave, or a benevolent man, or the 
contrary. These considerations are relevant, not to the estimation of 
actions, but of persons; and there is nothing in the utilitarian theory 
inconsistent with the fact that there are other things which interest us 
in persons besides the rightness and wrongness of their actions. The 
Stoics, indeed, with the paradoxical misuse of language which was 
part of their system, and by which they strove to raise themselves 
above all concern about anything but virtue, were fond of saying 
that he who has that has everything; that he, and only he, is rich, is 
beautiful, is a king. But no claim of this description is made for the 
virtuous man by the utilitarian doctrine. Utilitarians are quite aware 
that there are other desirable possessions and qualities besides virtue, 
and are perfectly willing to allow to all of them their full worth. They 
are also aware that a ri^t action does not necessarily indicate a 
virtuous character, and that actions which are blamable, often pro- 
ceed from qualities entitled to praise. When this is apparent in any 
particular case, it modifies their estimation, not certainly of the act, 
but of the agent. I grant that they are, notwithstanding, of opinicm, 
that in the long run the best proof of a good character is good actions; 
and resolutely refuse to consider any mental disposition as good, 
of which the predominant tendency is to produce bad conduct 



This makes them unpopular with many people; but it is an unpopu- 
larity which they must share with everyone who regards the distinc- 
tion between right and wrong in a serious light; and the reproach is 
not one which a conscientious utilitarian need be anxious to repel. 

If no more be meant by the objection than that many utilitarians 
look on the morality of actions, as measured by the utilitarian stand- 
ard, with too exclusive a regard, and do not lay sufficient stress upon 
the other beauties of character which go toward making a human 
being lovable or admirable, this may be admitted. Utilitarians who 
have cultivated their moral feelings, but not their sympathies nor 
their artistic perceptions, do fall into this mistake; and so do all other 
moralists under the same conditions. What can be said in excuse for 
other moralists is equally available for them, namely, that, if there 
is to be any error, it is better that it should be on that side. As a 
matter of fact, we may affirm that among utilitarians as among ad- 
herents of other systems, there is every imaginable degree of rigidity 
and of laxity in the application of their standard: some are even 
puritanically rigorous, while others are as indulgent as can possibly 
be desired by sinner or by sentimentalist. But on the whole, a doc- 
trine which brings prominently forward the interest that manldnd has 
in the repression and prevention of conduct which violates the moral 
law, is likely to be inferior to no other in turning the sanctions of 
opinion against such violations. It is true, the question, What does 
violate the moral law? is one on which those who recognize different 
standards of morality are likely now and then to differ. But difference 
of opinion on moral questions was not first introduced into the world 
by utilitarianism, while that doctrine does supply, if not always an 
easy, at all events a tan^ble and intelligible mode of deciding such 

It may not be superfluous to notice a few more of the common 
misapprehensions of utilita rian ethics, even those which are so ob- 
vious and gross that it might appear impossible for any person of 
candor and intelligence to fall into them; since persons, even 
considerable mental endowments, often give themselves so little 
trouble to understand the bearings of any opinion against which they 
entertain a prejudice, and men are in general so little conscious 
this voluntary ignorance as a defect, that the vulgtnest misunder- 
stancUngs of ethical doctrines are continually met with in the de- 
liberate writings of persons of the greatest pretensions both to high 


John Stuart Mill 

principle and to philosophy. We not uncommonly hear the doctrine 
of utility inveighed against as a godless doctrine. If it be necessary to 
say anything at all against so mete an assumption, we may say that 
the question depends upon what idea we have formed of the moral 
character of the Deity. If it be a true belief that God desires, above 
all things, the happiness of His creatures, and that this was His purpose 
in their creation, utility is not only not a godless doctrine, but more 
profoundly reli^us than any other. If it be meant that utilitarianism 
does not recognize the revealed will of God as the supreme law oi 
morals, I answer that a utilitarian who believes in the perfect good-\ 
ness and wisdom of God, necessarily believes that whatever God . 
has thought fit to reveal on the subject of morals, must fulfill the re- 
quirements of utility in a supreme degree. But others besides utili- 
tarians have been of opinion that the Christian revelation was 
intended, and is fitted, to inform the hearts and minds of mankind 
with a spirit which should enable them to find for themselves what is 
right, and incline them to do it when found, rather than to tell them, 
except in a very general way, what it is; and that we need a doctrine 
of ethics, carefully followed out, to interpret to us the will of God. 
Whether this opinion is correct or not, it is superfiuous here to dis- 
cuss; since whatever aid religion, either naturrd or revealed, can af- 
ford to ethical investigation, is as open to the utilitarian moralist as 
to any other. He can use it as the testimony of God to the usefulness 
or hurtfulness of any given course of action, by as good a right as 
others can use it for the indication of a transcendental law, having no 
connection with usefulness or with happiness. 

Again, Utility is often summarily stigmatized as an immoral doc- 
trine by giving it the name of Expediency, and taking advantage of 
the popular use of that term to contrast it with Principle. But the 
Expedient, in the sense in which it is opposed to the Right, generally 
means that which is expedient for Ae particular interest of the 
agmt himself; as when, a minister sacrifices the interests of his coun- 
try to keep himself in place. When it means anything better than this, 
it means that which is expedient for some immediate object, some 
temporary purpose, but which violates a rule whose observance is 
expedient in a much hig|her degree. The Expedient, in this sense, in- 
stead of being the same thing with the useful, is a branch of the hurt- 
fid. Thus, it would often be expedient, for the purpose of getting 
over some momentary embarrassment, ot attaining some object im- 
sneifiately usdul to ourselves or others, to tell a Ue. But inasmudi 



as the cultivation in ourselves of a sensitive feeling on the subject of 
veracity is one of the most useful, and the enfeeblement of that fad- 
ing one of the most hurtful, things to which our conduct can be 
instrumental; and inasmuch as any, even unintentional, deviation 
from truth does that much toward weakening the trustworthiness 
of human assertion, which is not only the principal support of all 
present social well-being, but the insufficiency of which docs more 
than any one thing that can be named to keep back civilization, 
virtue, everything on which human happiness on the largest scale 
depends; we feel that the violation, for a present advantage, of a rule 
of such transcendant expediency, is not expedient, and that he who, 
for the sake of a convenience to himself or to some other individual, 
does what depends on him to deprive mankind of the good, and 
inflict upon them the evil, involved in the greater or less reliance 
which they can place in each other’s word, acts the part of one of 
their worst enemies. Yet that even this rule, sacred as it is, admits 
of possible exceptions, is acknowledged by all moralists; the chief 
of which is when the withholding of some fact (as of information 
from a malefactor, or of bad news from a person dangerously ill) 
would save an individual (especially an individual other than oneself) 
from great and uiunerited evil, and when the withholding can only 
be effected by denial. But in order that the exception may not extend 
itself beyond the need, and may have the least possible effect in 
weakening reliance on veracity, it ought to be recognized, and, if 
possible, its limits defined; and if the principle of utility is good for 
anything, it must be good for weighing ffiese conflicting utilities 
against one another, and marking out the region within which one 
or the other preponderates. 

Again, defenders of utility often find themselves called upon to 
reply to such objections as this — ^that there is not time, previous to 
action, for calcidating and weighing the effects of any line of con- 
duct on the general happiness. This is exactly as if any one were to 
say that it is impossible to guide our conduct by Christianity, because 
there is not time, on every occasion on which anything has to be 
done, to read throu^ the Old and New Testaments. The answer to 
the objection is, that there has been ample time, namely, the whole 
past duration of the human species. During all that time, manldnd 
have been lear ning by experience the tendencies of actions; on which 
experience all the prudence, as well as all the morality of life, are 
dependmit. People talk as if the commencement of this course of rat- 


John Stuart Mill 

perience had hitherto been put off, and as if, at the moment when 
some man feels tempted to med^ with the property or life of 
another, he had to begin considering for the first time whether murder 
and theft are injurious to human happiness. Even then I do not 
think that he would find the question very puzzling; but, at all events, 
the matter is now done to his hand. It is truly a whimsical supposi- 
tion that, if mankind were agreed in considering utility to be the 
test of morality, they would remain without any agreement as tb 
what is useful, and woidd take no measures for having their notioik 
on the subject taught to the young, and enforced by law and opiniom 
There is no difficulty in proving any ethical standard whatever to' 
work ill, if we suppose universal idiocy to be conjoined with it; but 
on any hypothesis short of that, mankind must by this time have 
acquired positive beliefs as to the effects of some actions on their 
happiness; and the beliefs which have thus come down are the rules 
of morality for the multitude, and for the philosopher until he has 
succeeded in finding better. That philosophers might easily do this, 
even now, on many subjects; that the received code of ethics is by 
no means of divine right; and that mankind have still much to learn 
as to the effects of actions on the general happiness, I admit, or 
rather, earnestly maintain. The corollaries from the principle of 
utility, like the precepts of every practical art, admit of indefinite 
improvement, and, in a progressive state of the human mind, their 
improvement is perpetually going on. But to consider the rules of 
morality as improvable, is one thing; to pass over the intermediate 
generalizations entirely, and endeavor to test each individual action 
ffirecdy by the first principle, is another. It is a strange notion that 
the acknowledgment of a first principle is inconsistent with the ad- 
mission of secondary ones. To inform a traveler respecting the place 
of his ultimate destination, is not to forbid the use of landmarks and 
direction posts on the way. The proposition that happiness is the 
end and aim of morality ^s not mean that no road ought to be 
laid down to that goal, or that persons going thither should not be 
advised to take one direction raffier than another. Men really ou^t 
to leave off talking a kind of nonsense on this subject, which they 
would neither talk nor listen to on other matters of practical concem- 
mrat. Nobody argues that the art of navigation is not founded on 
astronomy, because sailors cannot wait to calculate the Nautical 
Almanack. Being rational creatures, they go to sea with it ready 
calcidated; and all rational creatures go out upon the ^a of life with 



their minds made up on the common questions of rigjbt and wrong, 
as well as on many of the far more difficult questions of wise and 
foolish. And this, as long as foresi^t is a human quality, it is to be 
presumed they will continue to do. Whatever we adopt as the funda- 
mental principle of morality, we require subordinate principles to 
apply it by; the impossibility of doing without them, being common 
to aU systems, can afford no argument against anyone in particular; 
but gravely to argue as if no such secondary principles could be 
had, and as if mankind had remained till now, and always must re- 
main, without drawing any general conclusions from the experience 
of human life, is as high a pitch, I think, as absurdity has ever 
reached in philosophicai controversy. 

The remainder of the stock arguments against utilitarianism mostly 
consist in laying to its charge the common infirmities of human 
nature, and the general difficulties which embarrass conscientious 
persons in shaping their course through life. We are told that a utili- 
tarian will be apt to make his own particular case an exception to 
moral rules, and, when under temptation, will see a utility in the 
breach of a rule, greater than he will see in its observance. But is 
utility the only creed which is able to furnish us with excuses for 
evil doing, and means of cheating our own conscience? They are 
afforded in abundance by all doctrines which recognize as a fact in 
morals the existence of conflicting considerations; which all doctrines 
do, that have been believed by sane persons. It is not the fault of 
any creed, but of the complicated nature of human affairs, that 
rules of conduct cannot be so framed as to require no exceptions, 
and that hardly any kind of action can safely be laid down as either 
always obligatory or always condemnable. There is no ethical creed 
which does not temper the rigidity of its laws, by giving a certain 
latitude, under the moral responsibility of the agent, for accommo- 
dation to peculiarities of circumstances; and under every cteed, at 
the opening thus made, self-deception and dishonest casuistry get in. 
There exists no moral system under which there do not arise un- 
equivocal cases of conflicting obligation. These are the real difficulties, 
the knotty points both in the theory of ethics, and in the consdentious 
guidance of personal conduct They are overcome practically, with 
greater or with less success, according to the intellect and virtue of 
the individual; but it can hardly be pretended that anyone will be 
the less qualified for dealing with them, from possessing an ultimate 
standard to which conflicting rigfits and duties can be referredk If 


John Stuart Mill 

utility is the ultimate source of moral obligations, utility may be in- 
voked to decide between them when their demands are incompatible. 
Though the application of the standard may be difi&cult, it is better 
than none at all: while in other systems, the moral laws all claiming 
independent authority, there is no common umpire entitled to inter- 
fere between them; their claims to precedence one over another rest 
on little better than sophistry, and unless determined, as they gen- 
erally are, by the unacknowledged influence of considerations o^ 
utility, afford a free scope for the action of personal desires an^ 
partialities. We must remember that only in these cases of conflict 
between secondary principles is it requisite that first principles should 
be appealed to. There is no case of moral obligation in which some 
secondary principle is not involved; and if only one, there can seldom 
be any red doubt which one it is, in the mind of any person by 
whom the principle itself is recognized. 


Of the Ultimate Sanction of the Principle of Utility 

T he question is often asked, and properly so, in regard to any 
supposed moral standard — ^What is its sanction? what are the 
motives to obey it? or more specifically, what is the source of its 
obligation? whence does it derive its binding force? It is a necessary 
part of moral philosophy to provide the answer to this question; 
which, though frequently assuming the shape of an objection to the 
utilitarian morality, as if it had some special applicability to that 
above others, really arises in regard to all standards. It arises, in fact, 
whenever a person is called on to adopt a standard, or refer morality 
to any basis on which he has not been accustomed to rest it. For the 
customary morality, that which education and opinion have conse- 
crated, is the only one which presents itself to the mind with the 
feeling of being in itself obligatory; and when a 'person is asked to 
believe that this morality derives its obligation from some general 
principle round which custom has not thrown the same halo, the 
asserticm is to him a paradox; the supposed corollaries seem to have a 
more binding force than the original theorem; the superstructure 
seems to stand better without, than with, what is represented as its 
foundation. He says to himself, I feel that I am bound not to rob 
or murder, betray or deceive; but why am 1 bound tp promote the 



general happiness? If my own happiness lies in something else, why 
may I not ^ve that the preference? 

If the view adopted by the utilitarian philosophy of the nature 
of the moral sense be correct, this difficulty will always present itself, 
until the influences which form moral character have taken the sme 
hold of the principle which they have taken of some of the conse- 
quences — until, by the improvement of education, the feeling of 
unity with our fellow creatures shall be (what it cannot be denied that 
Christ intended it to be) as deeply rooted in our character, and to 
our own consciousness as completely a part of our nature, as the 
horror of crime is in an ordinarily well brou^t up young person. 
In the meantime, however, the difficulty has no peculiar application 
to the doctrine of utility, but is inherent in every attempt to analyze 
morality and reduce it to principles; which, unless the principle is 
already in men’s minds invested with as much sacredness as any of 
its applications, always seems to divest them of a part of their sanctity. 

The principle of utility either has, or there is no reason why it 
might not have, all the sanctions which belong to any other system 
of morals. Those sanctions are either external or internal. Of the 
external sanctions it is not necessary to speak at any length. They 
are the hope of favor and the fear of displeasure from our fellow 
creatures or from the Ruler of the Universe, along with whatever we 
may have of sympathy or affection for them, or of love and awe of 
Him, i nf^lining us to do His will independently of selfish conse- 
quences. There is evidently no reason why all these motives for ob- 
servance should not attach themselves to the utilitarian moraUty, as 
completely and as powerfully as to any other. Indeed, ffiose of them 
which refer to our fellow creatures are sure to do so, in proportion 
to the amount of general intelligence; for whether there be any other 
ground of moral obligation than the general happiness or not, men 
do desire happiness; and however imperfect may be their ovm prac- 
tice, they desire and commend all conduct in others toward them- 
selves, by which they think their happiness is promoted. With regwd 
to the relifflous motive, if men believe, as most profess to do, m the 
goodness of God, those who think that conduciveness to the gener^ 
happiness is the essence, or even only the criterion o 8^ ’ 
necessarily believe that it is also that which God 
force therefore of external reward and punishment, whether physj^ 
or moral, and whether proceeding from God or from our fefl 
men, together with all that the capacities of hummi nature admit 


John Stuart Mill 

disinterested devotion to either, become available to enforce the 
utilitarian morality, in proportion as that morality is recognized; and 
the more powerfully, the more the appliances of education and gen- 
eral cultivation are bent to the purpose. 

So far as to external sanctions. The internal sanction of duty, 
whatever our standard of duty may be, is one and the same — a feeling 
in our own mind; a pain, mote or less intense, attendant on violation 
of duty, which in properly cultivated moral natures rises, in th^ 
more serious cases, into shrinking from it as an impossibility. This 
feeling, when disinterested, and connecting itself with the pure idealt 
of duty, and not with some particular form of it, or with any of the 
merely accessory circumstances, is the essence of Conscience; though 
in that complex phenomenon as it actually exists, the simple fact is 
in general all encrusted over with collateral associations, derived 
from sympathy, from love, and still more from fear; from all the 
forms of religious feeling; from the recollections of childhood and of 
all our past life; from self-esteem, desire of the esteem of others, and 
occasionally even self-abasement. This extreme complication is, I 
apprehend, the origin of the sort of mystical character which, by a 
tendency of the human mind of which there are many other examples, 
is apt to be attributed to the idea of moral obligation, and which 
leads people to believe that the idea cannot possibly attach itself 
to any other objects than those which, by a supposed mysterious law, 
are found in our present experience to excite it. Its binding force, 
however, consists in the existence of a mass of feeling which must 
be broken through in order to do what violates our standard of right, 
and which, if we do nevertheless violate that standard, will probably 
have to be encountered afterward in the form of remorse. Whatever 
theory we have of the nature or origin of conscience, this is what 
essentially constitutes it. 

The ultimate sanction, therefore, of all morality (external motives 
apart) being a subjective feeling in our own minds, I see nothing 
embarrassing to those whose standard is utility, in^e question, what 
is the sanction of that particular standard? We may answer, the 
same as of all other moral standards — ^the conscientious feelings of 
mankind. Undoubtedly this sanction has no binding efficacy on those 
who do not possess the feelings it appeals to; but neither will these 
persons be m(H'e obedient to any offier moral principle than to the 
utilitarian one. (hi them morality of any kind has no hold but througih 
the external sanctions. Meanwhile the feelings exist, a (^ct in human 



nature, the reality of which, and the great power with which they are 
capable of acting on those in whom they have been duly cultivated, 
are proved by experience. No reason has ever been shown why 
they may not be cultivated to as great intensity in connection with 
the utilitarian, as with any other rule of morals. 

There is, I am aware, a disposition to believe that a person who 
sees in moral obligation a transcendental fact, an objective reality 
belonging to the province of “Things in themselves,” is likely to be 
more obedient to it than one who believes it to be entirely subjective, 
having its seat in human consciousness only. But whatever a person’s 
opinion may be on this point of Ontology, the force he is really 
urged by is his own subjective feeling, and is exactly measured by its 
strength. No one’s belief that duty is an objective reality is stronger 
than the belief that God is so; yet the belief in God, apart from the 
expectation of actual reward and punishment, only operates on con- 
duct through, and in proportion to, the subjective religious feeling. 
The sanction, so far as it is disinterested, is always in the mind itself; 
and the notion therefore of the transcendental moralists must be, that 
this sanction will not exist in the mind unless it is believed to have 
its root out of the mind; and that if a person is able to say to himself. 
This which is restraining me, and which is called my conscience, is 
only a feeling in my own mind, he may possibly draw the conclusion 
that when the feeling ceases the obligation ceases, and that if he find 
the feeling inconvenient, he may disregard it, and endeavor to get 
rid of it. But is this danger confined to the utilitarian morality? Does 
the belief that moral obligation has its seat outside the mind make 
the feeling of it too strong to be got rid of? The fact is so far other- 
wise, that all moralists admit and lament the ease with which, in the 
generality of minds, conscience can be silenced or stifled. The ques- 
tion, Need I obey my conscience? is quite as often put to themselves 
by persons who never heard of the principle of utility, as by its ad- 
herents. Those whose conscientious feelings are so weak as to allow 
of their asking this question, if they answer it afiflrmatively, will not 
do so because they believe in the transcendental theory, but because 
of the external sanctions. 

It is not necessary, for the present purpose, to decide whether the 
feeling of duty is innate or implanted. Assuming it to be innate, it is 
an open question to what objects it naturally attaches itself; for ^ 
philosophic supporters of that theory are now agreed that to iu- 
tuitive perception is of principles of morality and not of the details. 


John Stuart Mill 

If there be anything innate in &e matter, I see no reason why the 
feeling which is innate should not be that of regard to the pleasures 
and pains of others. If there is any principle of morals which is in- 
tuitively obligatory, I should say it must be that. If so, the intuitive 
ethics would coincide with the utilitarian, and there would be no 
further quarrel between them. Even as it is, the intuitive moralists, 
though Aey believe that there are other intuitive moral obligations, 
do already believe this to be one; for they tihanimously hold that d 
large portion of morality turns upon the consideration due to thd 
interests of our fellow creatures. Therefore, if the belief in the tran-^, 
scendental origin of moral obligation gives any additional efficacy to 
the internal sanction, it appears to me that the utilitarian principle 
has already the benefit of it. 

On the other hand, if, as is my own belief, the moral feelings are 
not innate, but acquired, they are not for that reason the less natural. 
It is natural to man to speak, to reason, to build cities, to cultivate 
the ground, though these are acquired faculties. The moral feelings 
are not indeed a part of our nature, in the sense of being in any 
perceptible degree present in all of us; but this, unhappily, is a fact 
admitted by those who believe the most strenuously in their tran- 
scendental origin. Like the other acquired capacities above referred 
to, the moral faculty, if not a part of our nature, is a natural out- 
growth from it; capable, like them, in a certain small degree, of 
springing up spontaneously; and susceptible of being brought by 
cultivation to a high degree of development. Unhappily it is also 
susceptible, by a sufficient use of the external sanctions and of the 
force of early impressions, of being cultivated in almost any direc- 
tion: so that there is hardly anything so absurd or so mischievous 
that it may not, by means of these influences, be made to act on the 
human mind with all the authority of conscience. To doubt that the 
same potency might be given by the same means to the principle of 
utility, even if it had no foundation in human nature, would be flying 
in the face of all experience. 

But moral associations which are wholly of artificial creation, 
when intellectual culture goes on, yield by degrees to the dissolving 
force of analysis: and if the feeling of duty, when assodated with 
utility, would appear equally arbitrary; if there were no leading de- 
partment of omr nature, no powerful dass of sentiments, with which 
that association would harmonize, which would make us feel it con- 
genial, and incline us not only to foster it in others (for whidi we 



have abundant interested motives), but also to cherish it in our- 
selves; if there were not, in short, a natural basis of sentiment for 
i itilitarian morality, it might well happen that this association also, 
even after it had been implanted by education, might be analyzed 


But there is this basis of powerful natural sentiment; and this it is 
which, when once the general happiness is recognized as the ethical 
standard, will constitute the strength of the utilitarian morality. This 
firm foundation is that of the social feelings of mankind; the desire 
to be in unity with our fellow creatures, which is already a powerful 
principle in human nature, and happily one of those which tend to 
become stronger, even without express inculcation, from the influ- 
ences of advancing civilization. The social state is at once so natural, 
so necessary, and so habitual to man, that, except in some unusual 
circumstances or by an effort of voluntary abstraction, he never 
conceives himself otherwise than as a member of a body; and this 
association is riveted more and more, as mankind are further removed 
from the state of savage independence. Any condition, therefore, 
which is essential to a state of society, becomes more and more an 
inseparable part of every person’s conception of the state of things 
which he is born into, and which is the destiny of a human being. 

Now, society between human beings, except in the relation of master 
and slave, is manifestly impossible on any other footing than that the 
interests of all are to be consulted. Society between equals can only 
exist on the understanding that the interests of all are to be regarded 
equally. And since in all states of civilization, every person, except 
an absolute monarch, has equals, everyone is obliged to live on these 
terms with somebody; and in every age some advance is made toward 
a state in which it will be impossible to live permanenfly on other 
terms with anybody. In this way people grow up unable to conceive 
as possible to them a state of total disregard of other people’s inter- 
ests. They are under a necessity of conceiving themselves as at least 
abstaining from all the grosser injuries, and (if only for their own 
protection) living in a state of constant protest against them. They 
are also familiar with the fact of co-operating with others, an pr^ 
posing to themselves a collective, not an individual interest as the 
aim (at least for the time being) of their actions. So long as ftey are 
co-operating, their aids are identified with those of others, there is 
at least a temporary feeling that the interests of ofters are “ ^ 
interests. Not only does all strengthening of social ties, and all he y 


John Stuart Mill 

growth of society, ^ve to each individual a stronger personal interest 
in practically consulting the welfare of others; it also leads him to 
identify his feelings more and more with their good, or at least with 
an even greater degree of practical consideration for it. He comes, 
as though instinctively, to be conscious of himself as a being who 
of course pays regard to others. The good of others becomes to him 
a thing naturally and necessarily to be attended to, like any of the 
physical conditions of our existence. Now,* wliatever amount of thi^ 
feeling a person has, he is urged by the strongest motives both oo 
interest and of sympathy to demonstrate it, and to the utmost of his > 
power encourage it in others; and even if he has none of it himself, 
he is as greatly interested as anyone else that others should havb it. 
G}nsequendy the smallest germs of the feeling are laid hold of and 
nourished by the contagion of sympathy and the influences of edu- 
cation; and a complete web of corroborative association is woven 
round it, by the powerful agency of the external sanctions. This mode 
of conceiving ourselves and human life, as civilization goes on, is 
felt to be more and more natural. Every step in political improve- 
ment renders it more so, by removing the sources of opposition of 
interest, and leveling those inequalities of legal privilege between 
individuals or classes, owing to which there are large portions of 
mankind whose happiness it is still practicable to disregard. In an 
improving state of the human mind, ^e influences are constantly on 
the increase, which tend to generate in each individual a feeling of 
unity with all the rest; which, if perfect, would make him never think 
of, or desire, any beneficial condition for himself, in the benefits of 
which they are not included. If we now suppose this feeling of unity 
to be taught as a religion, and the whole force of education, of insti- 
tutions, and of opinion, directed, as it once was in the case of re- 
ligion, to make every person grow up from infancy surrounded on all 
sides both by the profession and the practice of it, I think that no 
one, who can realize this conception, will feel any misgiving about 
the sufficiency of the ultimate sanction for the Happiness morality. 
To any ethical student who finds the realization difficult, I recom- 
mend, as a means of facilitating it, the second of M. Gimte’s two 
principal works, the Traiti de Politique Positive. I entertain the 
strongest objections to the system of politics and morals set forth 
in that treatise; but I think it has superabundantly shown the possi- 
bility of giving to the service of humanity, even without the aid of 
beli^ in a Providence, both the psychological power and the social 



efficacy of a religion; making it take hold of human life, and color 
all thought, feeling, and action, in a maimer of which the greatest 
ascendancy ever exercised by any reli^on may be but a type and 
foretaste; and of which the danger is, not that it should be insuffi- 
cient, but that it should be so excessive as to interfere unduly with 
human freedom and individuality. 

Neither is it necessary to the feeling which constitutes the binding 
force of the utilitarian morality on those who recognize it, to wait 
for those social influences which would make its obligation felt by 
mankind at large. In the comparatively early state of human advance- 
ment in which we now live, a person cannot indeed feel that entire- 
ness of sympathy with all others, which would make any real dis- 
cordance in the general direction of their conduct in life impossible; 
but already a person in whom the social feeling is at all developed, 
cannot bring himself to think of the rest of his fellow creatures as 
struggling rivals with him for the means of happiness, whom he must 
desire to see defeated in their object in order that he may succeed 
in his. The deeply rooted conception which every individual even 
now has of himseU as a social being, tends to make him feel it one 
of his natural wants that there should be harmony between his feel- 
ings and aims and those of his fellow creatures. If differences of 
opinion and of mental culture make it impossible for him to share 
many of their actual feelings — ^perhaps make him denounce and defy 
those feelings — ^he still needs to be conscious that his real aim and 
theirs do not conflict; that he is not opposing himself to what they 
really wish for, namely their own good, but is, on the contrary, pro- 
moting it. This feeling in most individuals is much inferior in strength 
to their selfish feelings, and is often wanting altogether. But to those 
who have it, it possesses all the characters of a natural feeling. It does 
not present itself to their minds as a superstition of education, or 
a law despotically imposed by the power of society, but as an attri- 
bute which it would not be well for them to be without. This con- 
viction is the ultimate sanction of the greatest happiness morality. 
This it is which makes any mind, of well-developed feelings, work 
with, and not against, the outward motives to care for others, af- 
forded by what I have called the external sanctions; and when those 
sanctions are wanting, or act in an opposite direction, constitutes in 
itself a powerful internal binding force, in proportion to the sensitive- 
ness and thniighffulne ss of the character; since few but those whose 
mind is a moral blank could bear to lay out their course of lifcon 


John Stuart Mill 

the plan of paying no regard to others except so far as their own 
private interest compels. 


Oj What Sort of Proof the Principle of Utility 

Is Susceptible | 

I T HAS ALREADY been remarked that questions of ultimate ends dq 
not admit of proof, in the ordinary acceptation of the term. Tdi 
be incapable of proof by reasoning is common to all first principles; 
to the ^t premises of our knowledge, as well as to those of our 
conduct. But the former, being matters of fact, may be the subject 
of a direct appeal to the faculties which judge of fact — ^namely, our 
senses, and our internal consciousness. Can an appeal be made to 
the same faculties on questions of practical ends? Or by what other 
faculty is cognizance taken of them? 

Questions about ends are, in other words, questions what things are 
desirable. The utilitarian doctrine is, that happiness is desirable, and 
the only thing desirable, as an end; all other things being only desirable 
as means to that end. What ought to be required of this doctrine — 
what conditions is it requisite that the doctrine should fulfill — ^to make 
good its claim to be believed? 

The only proof capable of being ^ven that an object is visible, is 
that people actually see it. The only proof that a sound is audible, is 
that people hear it: and so of the other sources of our experience. In 
like manner, I apprehend, the sole evidence it is possible to produce 
that anything is desirable, is that people do actually desire it. If the 
end which the utilitarian doctrine proposes to itself were not, in the- 
ory and in practice, acknowledged to be an end, nothing could ever 
convince any person that it was so. No reason can be given why the 
general happiness is desirable, except that each person, so far as he 
believes it to be attainable, desires his own happiness. This, however, 
being a fact, we have not only all the proof wMch the case admits of, 
but all which it is possible to require, that happiness is a good: that 
each person’s happiness is a good to that person, and the general 
happiness, therefore, a good to the aggregate of all persons. Happiness 
has made out its title as om of the ends of con^c^ and consequently 
one of the criteria of morality. 



But it has not, by this alone, proved itself to be the sole criterion. 
To do that, it would seem, by the same rule, necessary to show not 
only that people desire happiness, but that they never desire anything 
else. Now it is palpable that they do desire things which, in common 
language, are decidedly distinguished from happiness. They desire, 
for example, virtue, and the absence of vice, no less really than pleas- 
ure and the absence of pain. The desire of virtue is not as universal, 
but it is as authentic a fact, as the desire of happiness. And hence the 
opponents of the utilitarian standard deem that they have a right to 
infer that there are other ends of human action besides happiness, 
and that happiness is not the standard of approbation and disapproba- 

But does the utilitarian doctrine deny that people desire virtue, or 
maintain that virtue is not a thing to be desired? The very reverse. It 
maintains not only that virtue is to be desired, but that it is to be 
desired disinterestedly, for itself. Whatever may be the opinion of 
utilitarian moralists as to the original conditions by which virtue is 
made virtue; however they may believe (as they do) that actions and 
dispositions are only virtuous because they promote another end 
than virtue; yet this being granted, and it having been decided, from 
considerations of this description, what is virtuous, they not only 
place virtue at the very head of the things which are good as means 
to the ultimate end, but they also recognize as a psychological fact 
the possibility of its being, to the individual, a good in itself, without 
looking to any end beyond it; and hold that the mind is not in a right 
state, not in a state conformable to Utility, not in the state most con- 
ducive to the general happiness, unless it does love virtue in this man- 
ner — as a thing desirable in itself, even although, in the individual in- 
stance, it should not produce those other desirable consequences 
which it tends to produce, and on account of which it is held to be 
virtue. This opinion is not, in the smallest degree, a departure from 
the Happiness principle. The ingredients of happiness are very vari- 
ous, and each of them is desirable in itself, and not merely when con- 
sidered as swelling an aggregate. The principle of utility does not 
mean that any given pleasure, as music, for instance, or any given 
exemption from pain, as for example health, is to be looked upon as 
means to a collective something termed happiness, and to be desired 
on that account They are desired and desirable in and for themselves; 
besides being means, they are a part of the end. Virtue, according to 
the utilitarian doctrine, is not naturally and originally part of the 


John Stuart Mill 

end, but it is capable of becoming so; and in those who love it dis- 
interestedly it has become so, and is desired and cherished, not as a 
means to happiness, but as a part of their happiness. 

To illustrate this further, we may remember that virtue is not the 
only thing, originally a means, and which if it were not a means to 
anj^ng else, would be and remain indifferent, but which by associa- 
tion with what it is a means to, comes to be desired for itself, and 
that too with the utmost intensity. What;' for example, shall we S9y 
of the love of money? There is nothing originally more desirabfe 
about money than about any heap of glittering pebbles. Its worth fs 
solely that of the things which it will buy; the desires for other things 
than itself, which it is a means of gratifying. Yet the love of money is 
not only one of the strongest moving forces of human life, but money 
is, in many cases, desired in and for itself; the desire to possess it is 
often stronger than the desire to use it, and goes on increasing when 
all the desires which point to ends beyond it, to be compassed by it, 
are falling off. It may, then, be said truly, that money is desired not 
for the sake of an end, but as part of the end. From bemg a means to 
happiness, it has come to be itself a principal ingredient of the in- 
dividual’s conception of happiness. The same may be said of the ma- 
jority of the great objects of human life — ^power, for example, or 
fame; except that to each of these there is a certain amount of im- 
mediate pleasure annexed, which has at least the semblance of being 
naturally inherent in them; a thing which cannot be said of money. 
Still, however, the strongest natural attraction, both of power and of 
fame, is the immense aid they give to the attainment of our other 
wishes; and it is the strong association thus generated between them 
and all our objects of desire, which gives to the direct desire of them 
the intensity it often assumes, so as in some characters to surpass in 
strragth all other desires. In these cases the means have become a 
part of the end, and a more important part of it than any of the things 
which they are means to. What was once desired as an instrument for 
the attainment of happiness has come to be desired for its own sake, 
in being desired for its own sake it is, however, desired as part of 
happiness. The person is made, or thinks he would be made, happy 
by its mere possession; and is made unhappy by failure to obtain it. 
Ilie desire of it is not a different thing from the desire of happiness, 
any more dian the love of music, or the desire of health. They are in- 
cluded in happiness. They are some of the elements of which the de- 
sire of harness is made up. Happiness is not an abstxact idea, but a 



concrete whole; and these are some of its parts. And the utilitarian 
standard sanctions and approves their being so. Life would be a poor 
thing, vei7 ill provided with sources of happiness, if there were not 
this provision of nature, by which things originally indifferent, but 
conducive to, or otherwise associated with, the satisfaction of our 
primitive desires, become in themselves sources of pleasure more 
valuable than the primitive pleasures, both in permanency, in the 
space of human existence that they arc capable of covering, and even 
in intensity. 

Virtue, according to the utilitarian conception, is a good of this de- 
scription. There was no original desire of it, or motive to it, save its 
conduciveness to pleasure, and especially to protection from pain. But 
through the association thus formed, it may be felt a good in itself, 
and desired as such with as great intensity as any other good; and 
with this difference between it and the love of money, of power, or of 
fame, that all of these may, and often do, render the individual nox- 
ious to the other members of the society to which he belongs, whereas 
there is nothing which makes him so much a blessing to them as the 
cultivation of the disinterested love of virtue. And consequently, the 
utilitarian standard, while it tolerates and approves those other ac- 
quired desires, up to the point beyond which they would be more in- 
jurious to the general happiness than promotive of it, enjoins and re- 
quires the cultivation of the love of virtue up to the greatest strength 
possible, as being above all things important to the general happiness. 

It results from the preceding considerations, that there is in reality 
nothing desired except happiness. Whatever is desired otherwise than 
as a means to some end beyond itself, and ultimately to happiness, is 
desired as itself a part of happiness, and is not desired for itself until 
it has become so. Those who desire virtue for its own sake, desire it 
either because the consciousness of it is a pleasure, or because the 
consciousness of being without it is a pain, or for both reasons united; 
as in truth the pleasure and pain seldom exist separately, but almost 
always together, the same person feeling pleasure in Ae degree of 
virtue attained, and pain in not having attained more. If one of these 
gave him no pleasure, and the other no pain, he would not love or d^ 
sire virtue, or would desire it only for the other benefits which it 
mi^t produce to himself or to persons whom he cared for. 

We have now, then, an answer to the question, of what sort of 
proof die principle of utility is susceptible. If the opinion which I have 
now stated is psychologically true— -if human nature is so constituted 


John Stuart Mill 

as to desire nothing which is not either a part of happiness or a 
means of happiness, we can have no other proof, and we require no 
other, that these are the only things desirable. If so, happiness is the 
sole end of human action, and the promotion of it the test by which 
to judge of all hiunan conduct; from whence it necessarily follows 
that it must be the criterion of morality, since a part is included in 
the whole. 

And now to decide whether this is really So; whether mankind doqis 
desire nothing for itself but that which is a pleasure to it, or of which 
the absence is a pain; we have evidently arrived at a question of fac^ 
and experience, dependent, like all similar questions, upon evidence. 
It can only be determined by practiced self-consciousness and self- 
observation, assisted by observation of others. I believe that these 
sources of evidence, impartially consulted, will declare that desiring a 
thing and finding it pleasant, aversion to it and thinking of it as pain- 
ful, are phenomena entirely inseparable, or rather two parts of the 
same phenomenon; in strictness of language, two different modes of 
naming the same psychological fact: that to think of an object as de- 
sirable (unless for the sake of its consequences), and to think of it as 
pleasant, are one and the same thing; and that to desire anything, ex- 
cept in proportion as the idea of it is pleasant, is a physical and meta- 
physical impossibility. 

So obvious does ^s appear to me, that I expect it will hardly be 
disputed: and the objection made will be, not that desire can possibly 
be directed to anything ultimately except pleasure and exemption 
from pain, but that the will is a different tUng from desire; that a 
person of confirmed virtue, or any other person whose purposes are 
fixed, carries out his purposes without any thought of the pleasure he 
has in contemplating them, or expects to derive from their fulfillment; 
and persists in acting on them, even though these pleasures are much 
diminished, by changes in his character or decay of his passive sensi- 
bilities, or are outwei^ed by the pains which tl^-pursuit of the pur- 
poses may bring upon him. All this I fuUy admit, and have stated it 
elsewhere, as positively and emphatically as anyone. Will, the active 
phenomenon, is a different thing from desire, the state of passive 
sensibili^, and though originally an offshoot from it, may in time 
take root and detach itself from the parent stock; so much so, that in 
the case of a habitual purpose, instead of willing the thing because we 
desire it, we often desire it oiffy because we will it. This, however, is 
but an instance of that familiar fact, the power of habits and is nowise 



confined to the case of virtuous actions. Many indifferent things, 
which men originally did from a motive of some sort, they continue 
to do from habit. Sometimes this is done unconsciously, the con- 
sciousness coming only after the action: at other times with conscious 
volition, but volition which has become habitual, and is put in opera- 
tion by the force of habit, in opposition perhaps to the deliberate pref- 
erence, as often happens with those who have contracted habits of 
vicious or hurtful indulgence. Third and last comes the case in which 
the habitual act of will in the individual instance is not in contradic- 
tion to the general intention prevailing at other times, but in fulfill- 
ment of it; as in the case of the person of confirmed virtue, and of all 
who pursue deliberately and consistently any determinate end. The 
distinction between will and desire thus understood is an authentic 
and highly important psychological fact; but the fact consists solely 
in this— that will, like all other parts of our constitution, is amenable 
to habit, and that we may will from habit what we no longer desire 
for itself, or desire only because we will it. It is not the less true that 
will, in the beginning, is entirely produced by desire; including in that 
term the repelling influence of pain as well as the attractive one of 
pleasure. Let us take into consideration, no longer the person who has 
a confirmed will to do right, but him in whom that virtuous will is still 
feeble, conquerable by temptation, and not to be fully relied on; by 
what means can it be stren^hened? How can the will to be virtuous, 
where it does not exist in sufficient force, be implanted or awakened? 
Only by making the person desire virtue — ^by making him think of it 
in a pleasurable light, or of its absence in a painful one. It is by as- 
sociating the doing right with pleasure, or the doing wrong with pain, 
or by eliciting and impressing and bringing home to the person’s ex- 
perience the pleasure naturally involved in the one or fte pain in the 
other, that it is possible to call forth that will to be virtuous, which, 
when confirmed, acts without any thought of either pleasure or pain. 
Will is the child of desire, and passes out of the dominion of its parent 
only to come under that of habit. TTiat which is the result of habit 
affords no presumption of being intrinsically good; and there would 
be no reason for wishing that the purpose of virtue should became 
independent of pleasure and pain, were it not that the influence of the 
pleasurable and painful associations which prompt to virtue is not 
sufficiently to be depended on for unerring constancy of action un 
it has acquired the support of habit. Both in feeling and m con u . , 
habit is the cmly thing which imparts certainty; and it is because o 


John Stuart Mill 

the importance to others of being able to rely absolutely on one’s 
feelings and conduct, and to oneself of being able to rely on one’s 
own, that the will to do right ought to be cultivated into this habitual 
independence. In other words, this state of the will is a means to 
good, not intrinsically a good; and does not contradict the doctrine 
that nothing is a good to human beings but in so far as it is either it- 
self pleasurable, or a means of attaining pleasure or averting pain. 

But if this doctrine be true, the principle of utility is proved. 
Whether it is so or not, must now be left to the consideration of the 
thoughtful reader. \ 


On the Connection between Justice and Utility 

I N ALL AGES OF SPECULATION, One of the Strongest obstacles to the 
reception of the doctrine that Utility or Happiness is the criterion 
of ri^t and wrong, has been drawn from the idea of Justice. The 
powerful sentiment, and apparently clear perception, which that word 
recalls with a rapidity and certainty resembling an instinct, have 
seemed to the majority of thinkers to point to an inherent quality in 
things; to show that the Just must have an existence in Nature as 
something absolute, generically distinct from every variety of the Ex- 
pedient, and, in idea, opposed to it, though (as is commonly ac- 
knowledged) never, in the long run, disjoined from it in fact. 

In the case of this, as of our other moral sentiments, there is no 
necessary connection between the question of its origin, and that of 
its binding force. That a feeling is bestowed on us by Nature does not 
necessarily legitimate all its promptings. The feeling of justice might 
be a peculiar instinct, and might yet require, like our other instincts, 
to be controlled and enlig^htened by a higher reason. If we have in- 
tellectual instincts, leading us to judge in a particular way, as well as 
anim al instincts that prompt us to act in a particular way, there is no 
necessity that the former should be more infallible in their sphere 
than the latter in theirs: it may as well happen that wrong judgments 
are occasionally suggested by those, as wrong actions by these. But 
diough it is one thing to believe that we have natural feelings of 
justice, and another to acknowledge them as an ultimate criterion of 
conduct, these two opinions are very closely coimected in point of 
fact Mankind are always predispos^ to believe that any subjective 



feeling, not otherwise accounted for, is a revelation of some objective 
reality. Our present object is to determine whether the reali^, to 
which the feeling of justice corresponds, is one which needs any 
special revelation; whether the justice or injustice of an action is a 
thing intrinsically peculiar, and istinct from all its other qualities, or 
only a combination of certain of those qualities, presented under a pe- 
culiar aspect. For the purpose of this inquiry it is practically important 
to consider whether the feeling itself, of justice and injustice, is sui 
generis like our sensations of color and taste, or a derivative feeling, 
formed by a combination of others. And this it is the more essential 
to examine, as people are in general willing enough to allow, that 
objectively the dictates of Justice coincide with a part of the field of 
General Expediency; but inasmuch as the subjective mental feeling of 
Justice is different from that which commonly attaches to simple ex- 
pediency, and, except in the extreme cases of Ae latter, is far more im- 
perative in its demands, people find it difficult to see, in Justice, only a 
particular kind or branch of general utility, and think that its superior 
binding force requires a totally different origin. 

To throw li^t upon this question, it is necessary to attempt to 
ascertain what is the distinguis^g character of justice, or of injustice: 
what is the quality, or whether there is any quality, attributed in 
common to all modes of conduct designated as unjust (for justice, 
like many other moral attributes, is best defined by its opposite), and 
distinguishing them from such modes of conduct as are ffisapproved, 
but without having that particular epithet of disapprobation applied 
to them. If in everything which men are accustomed to characterize as 
just or unjust, some one common attribute or collection of attributes 
is always present, we may judge whether this particular attribute or 
combination of attributes would be capable of gathering round it a 
sentiment of that peculiar character and intensity by virtue of the gea- 
eral laws of our emotional constitution, or whether the sentiment is 
inexplicable, and requires to be regarded as a special provision of 
Nature. If we find the former to be the case, we shall, in resolving 
this question, have resolved also the main problem: if the latter, we 
shall have to seek for some other niode of investigating it. 

To find the common attributes of a variety of objects, it is necessary 
to begin by Surveying the objects themselves in the concrete. Let us 
therefore advert successively to the various modes of acticm, and ar- 
rangements of human affairs, which are classed, by universal or addely 


John Stuart Mill 

spread opinion, as Just or as Unjust. The things well known to excite 
the sentiments associated with those names are of a very multifarious 
character. I shall pass them rapidly in review, without study in g any 
particular arrangement. 

In the first place, it is mostly considered unjust to deprive any one 
of his personal liberty, his property, or any other thing which belongs 
to him by law. Here, therefore, is one instance of the application of the 
terms just and unjust in a perfectly definite' sense, namely, that it |i$ 
just to respect, unjust to violate, the legal rights of anyone. But thk 
judgment admits of several exceptions, arising from the other form| 
in which the notions of justice and injustice present themselves. Fot 
example, the person who suffers the deprivation may (as the phrase 
is) have forfeited the rights which he is so deprived of: a case to 
which we shall return presently. But also. 

Secondly; the legal rights of which he is deprived, may be rights 
which ought not to have belonged to him; in other wor^, the law 
which confers on him these rights, may be a bad law. When it is so, 
or when (which is the same thing for our purpose) it is supposed to be 
so, opinions will differ as to the justice or injustice of infringing it. Some 
maintain that no law, however bad, ought to be disobeyed by an 
individual citizen; that his opposition to it, if shown at all, should only 
be shown in endeavoring to get it altered by competent authority. This 
opinion (which condemns many of the most illustrious benefactors of 
mankind, and would often protect pernicious institutions against the 
only weapons which, in the state of things existing at the time, have 
any chance of succeeding against them) is defended, by those who 
hold it, on grounds of expediency; principally on that of the impor- 
tance, to the common interest of mankind, of maintaining inviolate 
the sentiment of submission to law. Other persons, again, hold the 
(firectly contrary opinion, that any law, judged to be bad, may blame- 
lessly be disobeyed, even though it be not judged to be unjust, but 
only inexpedient; while others would confine the-license of ^sobedi- 
ence to the case of unjust laws: but again, some say, that all laws 
whidt are inexpedient are unjust; since every law imposes some re- 
striction on die natural Uberty of mankind, which restriction is an 
injusdce, unless legitimated by tending to iheir good. Among these 
diverdtira of offinion, it seems to be universally admitted that there 
may be unjust laws, and that law, consequently, is not the ultimate 
criterion of justice, but may ^e to one person a benefit, or impose on 
another an evil, which justice condemns. When, however, a law is 



thought to be unjust, it seems always to be regarded as being so in the 
same way in which a breach of law is unjust, namely, by infringing 
somebody’s right; which, as it cannot in this case be a legal right, re- 
ceives a different appellation, and is called a moral right. We may say, 
therefore, that a second case of injustice consists in taking or with- 
holding from any person that to which he has a moral right. 

Thirdly, it is universally considered just that each person should 
obtain that (whether good or evil) which he deserves; and unjust that 
he should obtain a good, or be made to undergo an evil, which he does 
not deserve. This is, perhaps, the clearest and most emphatic form in 
which the idea of justice is conceived by the general mind. As it in- 
volves the notion of desert, the question arises, what constitutes de- 
sert? Speaking in a general way, a person is understood to deserve 
good if he does right, evil if he does wrong; and in a more particular 
sense, to deserve good from those to whom he does or has done good, 
and evil from those to whom he does or has done evil. The precept of 
returning good for evil has never been regarded as a case of the 
fulfillment of justice, but as one in which the claims of justice are 
waived, in obedience to other considerations. 

Fourthly, it is confessedly unjust to break faith with anyone: to 
violate an engagement, either express or implied, or disappoint ex- 
pectations raised by our own conduct, at least if we have raised those 
expectations knowingly and voluntarily. Like the other obligations of 
justice already spoken of, this one is not regarded as absolute, but as 
capable of being overruled by a stronger obligation of justice on the 
other side; or by such conduct on the part of the person concerned as 
is deemed to absolve us from our obligation to him, and to constitute 
a forfeiture of the benefit which he has been led to expect. 

Fifthly, it is, by universal admission, inconsistent with justice to be 
partial; to show favor or preference to one person over another, in 
matters to which favor and preference do not properly apply. Impar- 
tiality, however, does not seem to be regarded as a duty in itself, but 
rather as instrumental to some other duty; for it is admitted that favor 
and preference are not always censurable, and indeed the cases in 
which they are condemned are rather the exception than the rule. A 
person would be more likely to be blamed than applauded for giving 
his family or friends no superiority in good offices over strangers, 
when he could do so without violating any other duty; and no one 
thinks it unjust to seek one person in preference to anoAer as a friend, 
connectitm, or companion. Impartiality where rights are concerned is 

John Stuart Mill 

of course obligatory, but this is involved in the more general obliga- 
tion of giving to everyone his right. A tribunal, for example, must be 
impartial, because it is bound to award, without regard to any other 
consideration, a disputed object to the one of two parties who has the 
right to it. There are other cases in which impartiality means, being 
solely influenced by desert; as with those who, in the capacity of 
judges, preceptors, or parents, administer reward and punishment as 
such. There are cases, ^ain, in which it means being solely influence^ 
by consideration for the public interest; as in making a selectioi^ 
among candidates for a govenunent employment. Impartiality, iii' 
short, as an obligation of justice, may be said to mean being exclu- 
sively influenced by the considerations which it is supposed ought to 
influence the particular case in hand; and resisting the solicitation of 
any motives which prompt to conduct different from what those con- 
siderations would dictate. 

Nearly allied to the idea of impartiality is that of equality, which 
often enters as a component part both into the conception of justice 
and into the practice of it, and, in the eyes of many persons, consti- 
tutes its essence. But in this, still more than in any other case, the 
notion of justice varies in different persons, and always conforms in 
its variations to their notion of utility. Each person maintains that 
equality is the dictate of justice, except where he thinks that expedi- 
ency requires, inequality. The justice of giving equal protection to the 
rights of aH is maintained by those who support the most outrageous 
inequality in the rights themselves. Even in slave countries it is theo- 
retically admitted that the rights of the slave, such as they are, ought 
to be as sacred as those of the master; and that a tribunal which fails 
to enforce them with equal strictness is wanting in justice; while, at 
the same time, institutions which leave to the slave scarcely any rights 
to mforce are not deemed unjust, because they are not deemed inex- 
pedient. Those who think that utility requires distinctions of rank, do 
not consider it unjust that riches and social privUeges should be un- 
equally dispensed; but those who think this inequality inexpedient, 
think it unjust also. Whoever thinks that government is necessary, 
sees no injustice in as much inequality as is constituted by giving to the 
mag^trate powers not granted to other people. Even among those 
who htfld levding doctrines, there are as many questions of justice as 
there are dilforences of opinion about expediency. Some Communists 
conMder it unjust that the produce of the labor of the community 
should be shared tm any other prindple than that of exact equality; 
others think it just that those should receive most whose wants are 



greatest; while others hold that those who work harder, or who pro- 
duce more, or whose services are more valuable to the community, 
may justly claim a larger quota in the division of the produce. And 
the sense of natural justice may be plausibly appealed to in behalf of 

every one of these opinions. 

Among so many diverse applications of the term Justice, which yet 
is not regarded as ambiguous, it is a matter of some difficulty to seize 
the mental link which holds them together, and on which the moral 
sentiment adhering to the term essentially depends. Perhaps, in this 
embarrassment, some help may be derived from the history of the 
word, as indicated by its etymology. 

In most, if not in all, languages, the etymolo^ of the word which 
corresponds to Just, points distinctly to an origin connected with the 
ordinances of law. Justum is a form of jussum, that which has been 
ordered. Ai'jcawv comes directly from Si'kij, a suit at law. Recht, from 

which came right and righteous, is synonymous with law. The courts 
of justice, the administration of justice, are the courts and the admin- 
istration of law. La justice, in French, is the established term for 
judicature. I am not committing the fallacy imputed with some show 
of truth to Home Tooke, of assuming that a word must still continue 
to mean what it originally meant. Etymology is slight evidence of 
what the idea now signified is, but the very best evidence of how it 
sprang up. There can, I think, be no doubt that the id^e mire, the 
primitive element, in the formation of the notion of justice, was con- 
formity to law. It constituted the entire idea among the Hebrews, up to 
the birth of Christianity; as might be expected in the case of a people 
whose laws attempted to embrace all subjects on which precepts were 
required, and who believed those laws to be a direct emanation from 
the Supreme Being. But other nations, and in particular ffie Greeto 
and Romans, who knew that their laws had been made on^rfly, and 
still continued to be made, by men, were not afraid to admit mt those 
men might make bad laws; might do, by law, the same things, and 
from the same motives, which if done by individuals without the sec- 
tion of law, would be called unjust. And hence the sentiment of mju^ 
tice came to be attached, not to all violations of law, but o y o i 
tions of such laws as ought to exist, including such as ' 

but do not; and to laws themselves, if supposed to be ^ 
ought to be law. In this manner the idea of law and o i J 
was still predominant in the notion of justice, 
tuaHy in force ceased to be accepted as the standard of it. 

It to tn* that mMUnd the tea 


John Stuart Mill 

tioDS as applicaUe to many things which neither are, nor is it desired 
that they should be, regulated by law. Nobody desires that laws should 
interfere with the whole detail of private life; yet everyone allows that 
in an daUy conduct a person may and does show himself to be either 
just or unjust. But even here, the idea of the breach of what ought to 
be law, stiU lingers in a modified shape. It would always give us pleas- 
ure, and chime in with our feelings of fitness, that acts which we deem 
unjust should be punished, though we do not always tiiink it expedient 
that this should be done by the tribunals. We forego that gratification 
on account of incidental inconveniences. We should be glad to see 
just conduct enforced and injustice repressed, even in the minutest 
details, if we were not, with reason, afraid of trusting the magistrate 
with so unlimited an amount of power over individuals. When we 
think that a person is bound in justice to do a thing, it is an ordinary 
form of language to say, that he ought to be compelled to do it. We 
should be gratified to see the obligation enforced by anybody who had 
the power. If we see that its enforcement by law would be inexpedient, 
we lament the impossibility, we consider the impunity given to in- 
justice as an evil, and strive to make amends for it by bringing a strong 
expression of our own and the public disapprobation to bear upon the 
offender. Thus the idea of legal constraint is still the generating idea 
of the notion of justice, though undergoing several transformations 
before tiiat notion, as it exists in an advanced state of society, becomes 

The above is, I think, a true account, as far as it goes, of the origin 
and progressive growth of the idea of justice. But we must observe, 
that it contains, as yet, nothing to distinguish that obligation from 
moral obligation in general. For the truth is, that the idea of penal 
sanction, which is the essence of law, enters not only into the concep- 
tion of injustice, but into that of any kind of wrong. We do not call any- 
thing wrong, unless we mean to imply that a person ought to be pun- 
ished in some way or other for doing it; if not by law, by the opinion 
of his felk>w creatures; if not by opinion, by the reproaches of his own 
conscience. Hus seems the real turning point of the distinction be- 
tween morali^ and simple expediency. It is a part of the notion of 
Duty in every one of its forms, that a person may ri^tfully be com- 
peBed to fulfill it Du^ is a thii^ which may be exacted from a person, 
as one exacts a debt. Unless we think that it may be exacted fnun him, 
we do not call it his duty. Reasons of prudence, or the interest of 
other people, may militate against actually exacting it; but the person 



himself, it is clearly understood, would not be entitled to complain. 
There are other things, on the contrary, which we wish that people 
should do, which we like or admire them for doing, perhaps dislike 
or despise them for not doing, but yet admit that they are not bound 
to do; it is not a case of moral obligation; we do not blame them, that 
is, we do not think that they are proper objects of punishment. How 
we come by these ideas of deserving and not deserving punishment 
will appear, perhaps, in the sequel; but I think there is no doubt that 
this distinction lies at the bottom of the notions of ri^t and wrong; 
that we call any conduct wrong, or employ, instead, some other term 
of dislike or disparagement, according as we think that the person 
ought, or ought not, to be punished for it; and we say, it would be 
right to do so and so, or merely that it would be desirable or laudable, 
according as we would wish to see the person whom it concerns, com- 
pelled, or only persuaded and exhorted, to act in that manner. 

This, therefore, being the characteristic difference which marks off, 
not justice, but morality in general, from the remaining provinces of 
Expediency and Worthiness; the character is still to be sought which 
distinguishes justice from other branches of morality. Now it is known 
that ethical writers divide moral duties into two classes, denoted by 
the ill-chosen expressions, duties of perfect and of imperfect obliga- 
tion; the latter being those in which, though the act is obligatory, the 
particular occasions of performing it are left to our choice; as in the 
case of charity or beneficence, which we are indeed bound to practice, 
but not toward any definite person, nor at any prescribed time. In the 
more precise language of philosophic jurists, duties of perfect obliga- 
tion are those duties in virtue of which a correlative right resides in 
some person or persons; duties of imperfect obligation are those moral 
obligations which do not give birth to any right. I think it will be 
found that this distinction exactly coincides with that which exists 
between justice and the other obligations of morality. In our survey 
of the various popular acceptations of justice, the term appeared gen- 
erally to involve the idea of a personal right — a claim on the part oi 
one or more individuals, like that which the law ^ves when it confers 
a jvoprietary or other legal rig|it. Whether the injustice consists in de- 
jmving a person of a possession, or in breaking faith with him, or in 
treating hLn worse than he deserves, or worse than other people who 
have no greater claims, in each case tiie supposition implies two things 
— a wrong done, and some assignable perscm who is wronged. 
Injustice may also be done by treating a pNson better than others; but 


John Stuart Mill 

the wrong in this case is to his competitors, who are also assignable 
persons. It seems to me that this feature in the case — a right in some 
person, correlative to the moral obligation — constitutes the specific 
difference between justice, and generosity or beneficence. Justice im- 
plies something which it is not only rigjit to do, and wrong not to do, 
but which some individual person can claim from us as his moral 
right. No one has a moral right to our generosity or beneficence, be- 
cause we are not morally bound to practice those virtues toward any 
given individual. And it will be found with respect to this as to every 
correct definition, that the instances which seem to confiict with it are 
those which most confirm it. For if a moralist attempts, as some have 
done, to make out that mankind generally, though not any given 
individual, have a right to all the good we can do them, he at once, 
by that thesis, includes generosity and beneficence within the category 
of justice. He is obliged to say, that our utmost exertions are due to 
our fellow creatures, thus assimilating them to a debt; or that nothing 
less can be a sufficient return for what society does for us, thus class- 
ing the case as one of gratitude; both of which are acknowledged cases 
of justice. Wherever there is a right, the case is one of justice, and not 
of the virtue of beneficence: and whoever does not place the distinc- 
tion between justice and morality in general, where we have now 
placed it, will be found to make no distinction between them at all, 
but to merge all morally in justice. 

[In the concluding pages of this work Mill gives renewed emphasis 
to the position previously taken — that social utility is the criterion 
of justice, as of all virtues, and rules of morality. The feelings asso- 
ciated with justice are strong, he says, because they spring from 
such powerful urges as self-defense and sympathy for others. Thus 
“Justice remains the appropriate name for certain social utilities 
which are vastly more important, and therefore more absolute and 
imperative, than any others are as a class . . . and which, there- 
fore, ought to be, as well as naturally are, guarded by a sentiment 
not only different in degree, but also in kind; distinguished from 
the milder feeling which attaches to the mere idea of promoting 
human pleasure or convenience, at once by the more definite nature 
of its commands, and by the sterner character of its sanctions."] 




T he subject of this essay is not the so-called Liberty of the 
WUl, so unfortunately opposed to the misnamed doctrine of 
Philosophical Necessity, but Civil, or Social Liberty, the nature and 
limits of the power which can be legitimately exercised by society 
over the individual. A question seldom stated and hardly ever dis- 
cussed, in general terms, but which profoundly influences the practi- 
cal controversies of the age by its latent presence, and is likely soon 
to make itself recognized as the vital question of the future. It is so 
far from being new that, in a certain sense, it has divided mankind 
almost from the remotest ages; but in the stage of progress into which 
the more civilized portions of the species have now entered, it pre- 
sents itself under new conditions and requires a different and more 
fundamental treatment. 

The strugglle between Liberty and Authority is the most conspic- 
uous feature in the portions of history with which we are earliest 
familiar, particularly in that of Greece, Rome and England. But in 
old times this contest was between subjects, or some classes of sub- 
jects, and the Government. By liberty was meant protection against 
the ^anny of the poUtical rulers. The rulers were conceived (excqit 
in some of the popular governments of Greece) as in a necessarily 
antagonistic position to the people whom they ruled. They om- 
sisted of a governing One, or a governing tribe or caste, who derived 

. 367 

John Stuart Mill 

their authority from inheritance or conquest, who, at all events, did 
not hold it at the pleasure of the governed, and whose supremacy 
men did not venture, perhaps did not desire, to contest, whatever 
precautions mig^t be taken against its oppressive exercise. Their 
power was regarded as necessary, but also as highly dangerous; as a 
weapon which they would attempt to use against their subjects, no 
less than against external enemies. To prevent the weaker members 
of the community from being preyed upon by innumerable vultures, 
it was needful that there should be an animal of prey stronger than 
the rest, commissioned to keep them down. But as the king of the 
vultures would be no less bent upon preying on the flock than any 
of the minor harpies, it was indispensable to be in a perpetual atti- 
tude of defense against his beak and claws. The aim, therefore, of 
patriots was to set limits to the power which the ruler should be 
suffered to exercise over the community; and this limitation was 
what they meant by liberty. It was attempted in two ways. First, by 
obtaining a recognition of certain immunities, caUed political liber- 
ties or rights, which it was to be regarded as a breach of duty in the 
ruler to infringe, and which if he did infringe, specific resistance, or 
general rebellion, was held to be justifiable. A second, and gener- 
ally a later expedient, was the establishment of constitutional checks, 
by which the consent of the community, or of a body of some sort 
supposed to represent its interests, was made a necessary condition 
to some of the more important acts of the governing power. To the 
first of diese modes of limitation, the ruling power, in most European 
countries, was compelled, more or less, to submit. It was not so with 
the second; and, to attain this, or when already in some degree pos- 
sessed; to attain it more completely, became everywhere the princi- 
pal object of the lovers of liberty. And so long as mankind were con- 
tent to combat one enemy by another, and to be ruled by a master 
on condition of being guaranteed more or less efficaciously against 
his tyranny, they did not carry, their aspirations bepnd this point. 

A time, however, came, in the progress of human affairs, when 
men ceased to think it a necessity of nature that their governors 
should be an independent power, opposed in interest to themselves. 
It appeared to them much better that the various magistrates of. the 
State should be their tenants or delegates, revocable at ffieir pleasure. 
In that way alone, it seemed, could they have complete security 
that the powers of government would never be abused to their dis- 
advantage. By degrees this ikw demand for decdve and temporary 


On Liberty 

rulers became the prominent object of the exertions of the popular 
par^, wherever any such party existed; and superseded, to a con- 
siderable extent, the previous efforts to limit the power of rulers. As 
the struggle proceeded for maldng the ruling power emanate from 
the periodical choice of the ruled, some persons began to think that 
too much importance had been attached to the limitation of the 
power itself. That (it might seem) was a resource against rulers 
whose interests were habitually opposed to those of the people. What 
was now wanted was that the rulers should be identified with the peo- 
ple; that their interest and will should be the interest and will of the 
.nation. The nation did not need to be protected against its own will. 
There was no fear of its tyraimizing over itself. Let the rulers be 
effectually responsible to it, prompdy removable by it, and it could 
afford to trust them with power of which it could itself dictate the 
use to be made. Their power was but the nation’s own power, con- 
centrated, and in a form convenient for exercise. This mode of 
thought, or rather perhaps of feeling, was common among the last 
generation of European liberalism, in the Continental section of 
which it still apparently predominates. Those who admit any limit 
to what a government may do, except in the case of such govern- 
ments as they think ought not to exist, stand out as brilliant excep- 
tions among the political thinkers of the Continent. A similar tone 
of sentiment might by this time have been prevalent in our own 
country, if the circumstances which for a time encouraged it had con- 
tinued unaltered. 

But in political and philosophical theories as well as in persons, 
success discloses faults and infirmities which failure might have con- 
cealed from observation. The notion that the people have no need to 
limit their power over themselves mig^t seem axiomatic when popu- 
lar government was a thing only dreamed about or read of as having 
existed at some distant period of the past. Neither was that notion 
necessarily disturbed by such temporary aberrations as those of the 
French Revolution, the worst of which were die work of a usurping 
few, and whidi, in any case, belonged not to the permanent woridng 
of popular institutions but to a sudden and convulsive outbreak 
against monarchical and aristocratic despotism. In time, however, a 
democratic republic came to occupy a large portion of the earth’s 
surface and made itself felt as one oi the most powerful members 
of the commtmity of nations; and elective and responsible govern- 
ment became subject to the observations and critidsms vdiidt wait 

' ' 369 

John Stuart Mill 

iipon a great existing fact. It was now perceived that such phrases 
as “self-government” and “the power of the people over themselves” 
do not express the true state of the case. The “people” who exercise 
the power are not always the same people with those over whom it 
is exercised; and the “self-government” spoken of is not the govern- 
ment of each by himself, but of each by all the rest. The will of the 
people, moreover, practically means the will of the most numerous 
or Ae most active part of the people; the majority, 'of those who suc- 
ceed in making themselves accepted as the majority; the people, con- 
sequently may desire to oppress a part of their number; and precau- 
tions are as much needed against ^is as against any other abuse of 
power. The limitation, therefore, of the power of government over 
individuals loses none of its importance when the holders of power 
are regularly accountable to the community, that is, to the strongest 
parQr therein. This view of things, recommending itself equally to 
the intelligence of thinkers and to the inclination of those important 
classes in European society to whose real or supposed interests de- 
mocracy is adverse, has had no difficulty in establishing itself; and 
in political speculations “the tyranny of the majority” is now gener- 
ally included among the evils against which society requires to be 
on its guard. 

Like other fannies, the tyranny of the majority was at first, and 
is still vulgarly, held in dread, chiefiy as operating through the acts 
of the public authorities. But reflecting persons perceived that when 
society is itself the tyrant — society collectively over the separate in- 
dividuals who compose it — ^its means of tyrannizing are not restricted 
to the acts which it may do by the hands of its political functionaries. 
Society can and does execute its own mandates; and if it issues 
wrong mandates instead of right, or any mandates at all in things 
with which it ought not to meddle, it practices a social tyraimy more 
formidable than many kinds of political oppression, since, though not 
usually upheld by such extreme penalties, it leaves fewe^ means of 
escape, penetrating much more deeply into the details of life, and 
enslaving the soul itself. Protection, therefore, against the tyraimy 
of die magistrate is not enough: there needs protecticm also against 
the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling; against the tend- 
micy of society to impose, by other means than civil penalties, its own 
ideas and practices as rules of conduct on those who dissent from 
tbmn; to fetter the development and, if possible, prevent the foima- 
don of any individuality not in harmony with its ways, and to compel 


On Liberty 

an characters to fashion themselves upon the model of its own. There 
is a limit to the legitimate interference of coUective opinion with in- 
dividual independence; and to find that limit and maintain it against 
encroachment is as indispensable to a good condition of human af- 
fairs as protection against political despotism. 

But thougih this proposition is not likely to be contested in general 
terms, the practical question, where to place the limit — ^how to make 
the fitting adjustment between individual independence and social 
control — ^is a subject on which nearly everything remains to be done. 
All that makes existence valuable to anyone depends on the enforce- 
ment of restraints upon the actions of other people. Some rules of 
conduct, therefore, must be imposed by law in the first place and 
by opinion on many things which are not fit subjects for Ae opera- 
tion of law. What these rules should be is the principal question in 
human affairs; but if we except a few of the most obvious cases, it is 
one of those which least progress has been made in resolving. No 
two ages and scarcely any two countries have decided it alike; and 
the decision of one age or country is a wonder to another. Yet the 
people of any given age and country no more suspect any difficulty 
in it, than if it were a subject on which mankind had always been 
agreed. The rules which obtain among themselves appear to them 
self-evident and self-justifying. This all but universal iUusion is one 
of the examples of the magical influence of custom, which is not 
only, as the proverb says, a second nature, but is continually mis- 
taken for the first. 

The effect of custom, in preventing any mis^ving respecting the 
rules of conduct which men impose on one another, is all the more 
complete because the subject is one on which it is not generally con- 
sidered necessary that reasons should be given, either by one person 
to others or by each to himself. People are accustomed to believe, 
and have been encouraged in the belief by some who aspire to the 
character of philosophers, that their feelings on subjects of this na- 
ture are better than reasons, and render reasons unnecessary. The 
practical principle which guides them to their opinions on the regula- 
tion of human conduct is the feeling in each person’s mind that every- 
body should be required to act as he, and as those with whom 
sympathizes would Uke than to act. No one, indeed, acknowledges 
to himself that his standard of judgment is his own liking; but an 
ojunion on a point oi conduct, not supported by reasons, can tmly 
count as one person’s preference; and if the reasons, when ^ven, 


John Stuart Mill 

are a mere appeal to a similar preference felt by other people, it is 
still only many people’s liking instead of one’s. To an ordinary man, 
however, his own preference, thus supported, is not only a perfectly 
satisfactory reason, but the only one he generaQy has for any of his 
notions of morality, taste or propriety, which are not expressly writ- 
ten in his religious creed; and Us chief guide in the interpretation 
even of that. Men’s opinions, accordingly, on what is laudable or 
blamable, are affected by all the multifarious causftsi' which influence 
their wishes in regard to the conduct of others, and which are as 
numerous as ffiose which determine their wishes on any other sub- 
ject. Sometimes it is their reason — at other times their prejudices 
or superstitions; often their social affections; not seldom their anti- 
social ones, their envy or jealousy, their arrogance or contemptu- 
ousness; but most commonly their desires or fears for themselves, 
their legitimate or illegitimate self-interest. Wherever there is an 
ascendant class, a large portion of the morality of the country ema- 
nates from its class interests and its feelings of class superiority. The 
morality between Spartans and helots, between planters and Ne- 
groes, between princes and subjects, between nobles and roturiers, 
between men and women, has been for the most part the creation 
of these class interests and feelings; and the sentiments thus gener- 
ated react in turn upon the moral feelings of the members of the 
ascendant class in their relations among themselves. Where, on the 
other hand, a class, formerly ascendant, has lost its ascendancy, or 
where its ascendancy is unpopular, the prevailing moral sentiments 
frequently bear the impress of an impatient dislike of superiority. 
Another grand determining principle of the rules of conduct, both 
in act and forbearance, which have been enforced by law or opinion, 
has been the servility of mankind toward the supposed preferences 
or aversions of their temporal masters or of their gods. This servility, 
though essentially selfish, is not hypocrisy; it gives rise to perfectly 
genuine sentiments of abhorrence; it made men bum ma^ians and 
heretics. Among so many baser influences, the general and obvious 
interests of sode^ have of course had a share, and a large one, in 
the direction of the moral sentiments; less, however, as a matter of 
reason, and on their own account, than as a consequence of the 
sympathi^ and antipatlues which grew out of them; and sympathies 
and antipatiiies which had little or nothing to do with the interests of 
sodety have made thmnsdves felt in the establishment of moralities 
quite as g^eat force. 


On Liberty 

The likings and dislikings of society, or of some powerful portion 
of it, are tiius the main thing which has practically determmed the 
rules laid down for general observance, under the penalties of law 
or opinion. And in general, those who have been in advance of so- 
ciety in thought and feeling have 1^ this condition of things unas- 
sailed in principle, however they may have come into conflict with 
it in some of its details. They have occupied themselves rather in 
inquiring what things society ought to like or dislike, than in ques- 
tioning whether its liking or dislikings should be a law to individuals. 
They preferred endeavoring to alter the feelings of mankind on the 
particular points on which they were themselves heretical, rather 
than to make common cause in defense of freedom, with heretics 
generally. The only case in which the higher ground has been taken 
on principle and maintained with consistency by any but an individ- 
ual here and there is that of religious belief: a case instructive in 
many ways, and not least so as forming a most striking instance of 
the fallibility of what is called the moral sense; for the odium theo- 
logicum, in a sincere bigot, is one of the most unequivocal cases of 
moral feeling. Those who first broke the yoke of what called itself 
the Universal Church were in general as little willing to permit dif- 
ference of religious opinion as that church itself. But when the heat 
of the conflict was over without giving a complete victory to any 
party, and each church or sect was reduced to limit its hopes to re- 
taining possession of the ground it already occupied, minorities, see- 
ing that they had no chance of becoming majorities, were under the 
necessity of pleading, to those whom they could not convert, for per- 
mission to differ. It is accordingly on t^ battlefield, almost solely, 
that the rights of the individual against society have been asserted 
on broad grounds of principle, and the claim of society to exercise 
authority over dissentients openly controverted. The great writers 
to whom the world owes what religious liberty it possess^ have 
mostly asserted freedom of consdence as an indefeasible right, and 
denied absolutely that a human being is accountable to others for 
his religious belief. Yet so natural to men is intolerance in whatever 
they really care about, that rdipous freedom has hardly anywhere 
been practically realized, except where religious uuflffetence, which 
dislikes to have its peace disturbed by theological quarrels, has 
added its weight to the scale. In the minds of almost all reli^ous 
persons, even in the most tolerant countries, the duty of toleratirm 
is admitted with tadt reserves. One person will bear with dissmit in 


John Stuart Mill 

matters of church government, but not of dogma; another can toler- 
ate everybody short of a Papist or a Unitarian; another, everyone 
who believes in revealed religion; a few extend their charity a little 
further, but stop at the belief in a God and in a future state Wher- 
ever the sentiment of the majority is still genuine and intense, it is 
found to have abated little of its claim to be obeyed. 

In England, from the peculiar circumstances of pur political his- 
tory, though the yoke of opinion is perhaps heavier, that of law is 
lighter than in most other countries of Europe; and there is consider- 
able jealousy of direct interference, by the legislative or the executive 
power, with private conduct; not so much from any just regard for 
the independence of the individual, as from the still subsisting habit 
of looking on the government as representing an opposite interest to 
the public. The majority have not yet learned to feel the power of 
the government their power, or its opinions their opinions. When 
they do so, individual liberty will probably be as much exposed to 
invasion from the government, as it already is from public opinion. 
But, as yet, there is a considerable amount of feeling ready to be 
called forth against any attempt of the law to control individuals in 
things in which they have not hitherto been accustomed to be con- 
trolled by it; and ^is with very little discrimination as to whether 
the matter is, or is not, within the legitimate sphere of legal control; 
insomuch that the feeling, highly salutary on the whole, is perhaps 
quite as often misplaced as well grounded in the particular instances 
of its application. There is, in fact, no recognized principle by which 
the propriety or impropriety of government interference is custom- 
arily tested. People decide according to their personal preferences. 
Some, whenever they see any good to be done or evil to be remedied, 
would willingly instigate the government to undertake the business; 
vriiile others prefer to bear almost any amount of social evil rather 
than add one to the departments of human interests amenable to 
governmental control. And men range themselves on one or the 
other side in any particular case, according to this general direction 
of tteir sentiments; or according to the degree of interest which they 
fed in the particular thing which it is proposed that the government 
should do, or according to the belief th^ entertain that the govem- 
mmt would, or would not, do it in the manner they prefer; but very 
rarely on account of any opinion to which they consistently adhere, 
as to what things are fit to be done by a government And it seems 
to me that in consequence of this absence of rule or principle, one 


On Liberty 

side is at present as often wrong as the other; the interference of 
government is, with about equal frequency, improperly invoked and 
improperly condemned. 

The object of this essay is to assert one very simple principle, as 
entitled to govern absolutely the dealings of society with the individ- 
ual in the way of compulsion and control, whether the means used 
be physical force in the form of legal penalties, or the moral coercion 
of public opinion. That principle is that the sole end for which men 
are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the lib- 
erty of action of any of their number is self-protection. That the only 
purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any mem- 
ber of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to 
others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient 
warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because 
it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, 
because, in the opinions of others, to do so would be wise or even 
right. These are good reasons for remonstrating with him, or reason- 
ing with him, or persuading him, or entreating him, but not for com- 
pelling him, or visiting him with any evil in case he do otherwise. 
To justify that, the conduct from which it is desired to deter him must 
be calculated to produce evil to someone else. The only part of the 
conduct of anyone, for which he is amenable to society, is that which 
concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his inde- 
pendence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and 
mind, the individual is sovereign. 

It is, perhaps, hardly necessary to say that this doctrine is meant 
to apply only to human beings in the maturity of their faculties. We 
are not speaking of children, or of young persons below the age 
which the law may fix as that of manhood or womanhood. Those 
who are still in a state to require being taken care of by others must 
be protected against their own actions as well as against ^eternal 
injury. For the same reason, we may leave out of consideration those 
backward states of society in which the race itself may be considered 
as in its nonage. The early difficulties in the way of spontaneous 
progress are so great that there is seldom any choice of means for 
overcoming them; and a ruler full of the spirit of improvement is 
warranted in the use of any expedients that will attain an end, per- 
haps otherwise unattainable. Despotism is a legitimate mode of gov- 
ernment in dealing with barbarians, provided the end be their im- 
provement, and the means justified by actually efiEecting tiud end. 


John Stuart Mill 

Liberty, as a principle, has no application to any state of things an* 
terior to the time when men have become capable of being improved 
by free and equal discussion. Until then, there is nothing for them 
but implicit obedience to an Akbar or a Charlemagne, if they are 
so fortunate as to find one. But as soon as men have attained the 
capacity of being guided to their own improvement by conviction 
or persuasion (a period long since reached in all nations with whom 
we need here concern ourselves), compulsion, eitlier in the direct 
form or in that of pains and penalties for noncompliance, is no 
longer admissible as a means to their own good, and justifiable only 
for the security of others. 

It is proper to state that I forego any advantage which could be 
derived to my argument from the idea of abstract right as a thing 
independent of utility. I regard utility as the ultimate appeal on all 
ethical questions; but it must be utility in the largest sense, grounded 
on the permanent interests of a man as a progressive being. Those 
interests, I contend, authorize the subjection of individual spontane- 
ity to external control, only in respect to those actions of each, which 
concern the interest of other people. If anyone does an act hurtful 
to others, there is a prima facie case for punishing him by law, or, 
where legal penalties are not safely applicable, by general disappro- 
bation. Iliere are also many positive acts for the benefit of others, 
which he may rightfully be compelled to perform: such as to give 
evidence in a court of justice; to bear his fair share in the common 
defense, or in any other joint work necessary to the interest of the 
society of which he enjoys the protection; and to perform certain 
acts of individual beneficence, such as saving a fellow creature’s life, 
or inteiposing to protect the defenseless against ill-usage — things 
which, whenever it is obviously a man’s duty to do, he may rightfully 
be made responsible to society for not doing. A person may cause 
evil to . others not only by his actions but by his inaction, and in either 
case he is justly accountable to them for the injury. The latter case, 
it is true, requires a much more cautious exercise of compulsion than 
the former. To make anyone answerable for doing evil to others is 
the rule; to make him answerable for not preventing evil is, compara- 
tively speaking, the exception. Yet there are many cases clear 
enoi^ and grave enough to justify that exception. In aU things which 
regard the external relations of the individual, he is de jure amenable 
to those whose interests are concerned, and, if need be, to society as 
their protector. There are often good reasons for not holding him to 


On Liberty 

the responsibility; but these reasons must arise from the special ex- 
pediencies of the case: either because it is a kind of case in which 
he is on the whole likely to act better when left to his own discretion, 
than when controlled in any way in which society have it in their 
power to control him; or because the attempt to exercise control 
would produce other evils greater than those which it would prevent. 
When such reasons as these preclude the enforcement of responsi- 
bility, the conscience of the agent himself should step into the va- 
cant judgment seat and protect those interests of others which have 
no external protection, judging himself all the more rigidly because 
the case does not admit of his being made accountable to the judg- 
ment of his fellow creatures. 

But there is a sphere of action in which society, as distinguished 
from the individued, has, if any, only an indirect interest; compre- 
hending all that portion of a person’s life and conduct which affects 
only himself, or ff it also affects others, only with their free, voluntary 
and undeceived consent and participation. When I say only himself, 
I mean directly, and in the ^t instance; for whatever affects him- 
self may affect others through himself; and the objection which may 
be grounded on this contingency will receive consideration in tiw 
sequel. This, then, is the appropriate region of human libert^at 
comprises, first, the inward domain of consciousness, demanding 
liberty of conscience in the most comprehensive sense: liberty of 
thou^t and feeling; absolute freedom of opinion and sentiment on 
aU subjects, practical or speculative, scientific, moral or theological. 
The liberty of expressing and publishing opinions may seem to fall 
under a different principle, since it belongs to that part of the con- 
duct of an individual which concerns other people; but, being almost 
of as much importance as the liberty of thou^t itself, and resting in 
great part on the same reasons, is practically inseparable from it. 
Secondly, the principle requires liber^ of tastes and pursuits; of 
framing Ae plan of our life to suit our own character; of doing as we 
like, subject to such consequences as may follow, without impediment 
from our fellow creatures, so long as what we do does not harm 
them, even though they should think our ccmduct foolish, perverse 
or wrong. Thirdly, from this liberty of each individual follows the 
liberty, within the same limits, of combination among individuals; 
freedom to unite for any purpose not involving harm to others; the 
persons combining being supposed to be of full age, and not forced 
or deceived. 

John Stuart Mill 

No society in which these liberties are not, on the whole, respected 
is free, whatever may be its form of government; and none is com- 
pletely free in which they do not exist absolute and unqualified. The 
only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing our own 
good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others 
of theirs or impede their efforts to obtain it. Each is the proper guard- 
ian of his own health, whether bodily, or mental and spiritual. Men 
are greater gainers by suffering each other to livd &s seems good to 
themselves, than by compelling each to live as seems good to the rest. 

Though this doctrine is anything but new, and, to some persons, 
may have the air of a truism, there is no doctrine which stands more 
directly opposed to the general tendency of existing opinion and 
practice. Society has expended fully as much effort in ^e attempt 
(according to its lights) to compel people to conform to its notions 
of personal as of social excellence. The ancient commonwealths 
thought themselves entitled to practice and the ancient philosophers 
countenanced the regulation of every part of private conduct by pub- 
lic authority, on the ground that the State had a deep interest in the 
whole bodily and mental discipline of every one of its citizens; a 
mode of thinking which may have been admissible in small republics 
surrounded by powerful enemies, in constant peril of being subverted 
by foreign attack or internal commotion, and to which even a short 
interval of relaxed energy and self-command might so easily be fatal 
that they could not afford to wait for the salutary permanent effects 
of freedom. In the modem world, the greater size of political com- 
munities, and, above all, the separation between spiritual and tem- 
poral authority (which placed the direction of men’s consciences 
in other hands than those which controlled their worldly affairs) pre- 
vented so great an interference by law in the details of private life; 
but the engines of moral repression have been wielded more strenu- 
ously against divergence from the reigning opinion in self-regarding, 
than even in social matters; religion, the most powerful. of the ele- 
ments which have entered into the formation of moral feeling, hav- 
ing almost always been governed either by the ambition of a hier- 
archy seeking control over every department of human conduct, or 
by the spirit of Puritanism. And some of those modem reformers 
who have placed themselves in strongest opposition to the religions 
of the past have been in no way behind either churches or sects in 
their assertion of the ri^t of spiritual domination; M. Comte, in 


On Liberty 

particular, whose social system as unfolded in his SysUme de PoM- 
que Positive aims at establishing (thou^ by moral more than by 
legal appliances) a despotism of society over the individual, surpass- 
ing anything contemplated in the political ideal of the most rigid 
disciplinarian among the ancient philosophers. 

Apart from the peculiar tenets of individual thinkers, there is also 
in the world at large an increasing inclination to stretch unduly the 
powers of society over the individual, both by the force of opinion 
and even by that of legislation; and as the tendency of all the changes 
taking place in the world is to strengthen society and diminish the 
power of the individual, this encroachment is not one of the evils 
which tend spontaneously to disappear, but, on the contrary, to grow 
more and more formidable. The disposition of men, whether as rulers 
or as fellow citizens, to impose their own opinions and inclinations as 
a rule of conduct on others, is so energetically supported by some of 
the best and by some of the worst feelings incident to human nature, 
that it is hardly ever kept under restraint by anything but want of 
power; and as the power is not declining, but growing, unless a strong 
barrier of moral conviction can be raised against the mischief, we 
must expect, in the present circumstances of the world, to see it in- 

It will be convenient for the argument, if, instead of at once enter- 
ing upon the general thesis, we confine ourselves in the first instance 
to a single branch of it, on which the principle here stated is, if not 
fully, yet to a certain point recognized by the current opinions. This 
one branch is the Liberty of Thought: from which it is impossi- 
ble to separate the cognate liberty of speaking and of writing. Al- 
though these liberties, to some considerable amount, form part of the 
political morality of all countries which profess reli^ous toleration 
and free institutions, the grounds, both philosophical and practical, on 
which they rest are perhaps not so familiar to the general mind,- nor so 
thoroughly appreciated by many even of the leaders of opinion, as 
might have bi^n expected. Those grounds, when rightly understood, 
are of much wider application than to only one division of the sub- 
ject, and a thorough consideration of this part of the question wiU be 
found the best introduction to the remainder. Those to whom noth- 
ing which I am about to say will be new, may therefore, I hope, ex- 
cuse me, if on a subject whidi for now three centuries has been so 
often discussed, I vmiture on one discussion more. 



Of the Liberty of Thought and Discussion 

T he time, it is to be hoped, is gone by, when any defense would 
be necessary of the “liberty of the press” as oqe of the securities 
against corrupt or tyrannical government. No argument, we may sup- 
pose, can now be needed against permitting a legislature or an execu- 
tive, not identified in interest with the people, to prescribe opinions to 
them and determine what doctrines or what arguments they shall be 
allowed to hear. This aspect of the question, besides, has been so 
often and so triumphantly enforced by preceding writers, that it 
needs not be specially insisted on in this place. Though the law of 
En^and, on the subject of the press, is as servile to this day as it was 
in the time of the Tudors, there is little danger of its being actually 
put in force against political discussion, except during some temporary 
panic, when fear of insurrection drives ministers and judges from 
their projmety; and, speaking generally, it is not, in constitutional 
countries, to be apprehended that the government, whether com- 
pletely responsible to the people or not, will often attempt to control 
the expression of opinion, except when in doing so it makes itself the 
organ of the generd intolerance of the public. Let us suppose, there- 
fore, that the government is entirely at one with the people, and never 
thinks of exerting any power of coercion unless in agreement widi 
what it conceives to be their voice. But I deny the right of the people 
to exercise such coercion, either by themselves or by their govern- 
ment. The power itself is illegitimate. The best government has no 
more title to it than the worst. It is as noxious, or more noxious, when 
exerted in accordance with public opinion, than when in opposition 
to it If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, and only one 
person were of the contrary opmion, mankind would be noT more jus- 
tified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, 
would be justified in silencing mankind. Were an opinion a personal 
possessitm of no value except to the owner; if to be obstructed in the 
enjoymmit of it were simply a private injury, it would make some 
difference whether the injury was inflicted ody on a few persons or 
cm many. But the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opin- 
ion is tlmt it is robbing the human race, posterity as well as the ^t- 
ing generation; those who dissent fi(»D fbe opinion, still more than 


On Liberty 

those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the op- 
portunity of exchanging error for truth; if wrong, they lose, what is 
almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impres- 
sion of truth, produced by its collision with error. 

It is necessary to consider separately these two hypotheses, each 
of which has a distinct branch of the argument corresponding to it. 
We can never be sure that the opinion we are endeavoring to stifie is 
a false opinion; and if we were sure, stifling it would be an evil still. 

First: the opinion which it is attempted to suppress by authority 
may possibly be true. Those who desire to suppress it, of course, deny 
its truth; but they are not infallible. They have no author!^ to decide 
the question for all mankind and exclude every other person from 
the means of judging. To refuse a hearing to an opinion, because they 
are sure that it is false, is to assume that their certainty is the same 
thing as absolute certainty. All silencing of discussion is an assump- 
tion of infallibility. Its condemnation may be allowed to rest on this 
common argument, not the worse for being common. 

Unfortunately for the good sense of mankind, the fact of their falli- 
bility is far from carrying the weight in their practical judgment which 
is always allowed to it in theory; for while everyone well knows him- 
self to be fallible, few think it necessary to take any precautions 
against their own fallibility or admit the supposition that any opinion 
of which they feel very certain may be one of the examples of Ae er- 
ror to which they acknowledge themselves to be liable. Absolute 
princes, or others who are accustomed to unlimited deference, usually 
feel this complete confidence in their own opinions on nearly all sub- 
jects. People more happily situated, who sometimes hear their opin- 
ions disputed and are not wholly unused to be set right when they are 
wrong, place the same unbounded reliance only on such of their 
opinions as are shared by all who surround them, or to whom they 
habitually defer; for in proportion to a man’s want of confidence in 
his own solitary judgment does he usually repose, with implicit trust, 
on the infallibility of “the world” in general. And the world, to each 
individual, means the part of it with which he comes in contact: his 
par^, his sect, his church, his class of socie^; the man may be called, 
by comparison, almost liberal and large-minded to whom it means 
anything so comprehmisive as his own country or his own age. Nor is 
his faith in this collective authori^ at aU shaken by his being aware 
that odier ages, countries, sects, chutdies, dasses and parties have 


John Stuart Mill 

thought, and even now think, the exact reverse. He devolves upon 
his own world the responsibility of being in the right against the dis- 
sentient worlds of other people; and it never troubles that mere 
accident has decided which of these numerous worlds is the object of 
his reliance, and that the same causes which make him a Churchman 
in London, would have made him a Buddhist or a Confucian in Pe- 
king. Yet it is as evident in itself, as any amount of argument can 
make it, that ages are no more infallible than individuals; every age 
having held many opinions which subsequent ages have deemed not 
only false but absurd; and it is as certain that many opinions now 
general will be rejected by future ages, as it is that many, once gen- 
eral, are rejected by the present. 

The objection likely to be made to this argument would probably 
take some such form as the following. There is no greater as- 
sumption of infallibility in forbidding the propagation of error, 
than in any other thing which is done by public authority on its own 
judgment and responsibility. Judgment is given to men that they may 
use it. Because it may be used erroneously, are men to be told that 
they ought not to use it at all? To prohibit what they think pernicious 
is not claiming exemption from error, but fulfilling the duty incum- 
bent on them, although fallible, of acting on their conscientious con- 
viction. If we were never to act on our opinions, because those opin- 
ions may be wrong, we should leave all our interests uncared for, 
and all our duties unperformed. An objection which applies to all 
conduct can be no valid objection to any conduct in particular. It is 
the duty of governments, and of individuals, to form Ae truest opin- 
ions they can; to form them carefully and never impose them upon 
others unless they are quite sure of being right. But when they are 
sure (such reasoners may say), it is not conscientiousness but cow- 
ardice to shrink from acting on their opinions, and allow doctrines 
which they honestly think dangerous to the welfare of mankind, 
either in tiiis life or in another, to be scattered abroad without re- 
straint, because other people, in less enlightened times, have perse- 
cuted opinions now beUeved to be true. Let us take care, it may be 
said, not to make the same mistake; but governments and nations 
have made mistakes in other things, which are not denied to be fit 
subjects for the exercise of authority: they have laid on bad taxes, 
made unjust wars. Ou^t we therefore to lay on no taxes and, under 
whatever provocation, make no wars? Men, and governments, must 
act to the best of their ability. There is no such thing as absolute^cer- 


On Liberty 

tainty, but there is assurance sufficient for the purposes of human life. 
We may, and must, assume our opinion to be true for the guidance of 
our own conduct; and it is assuming no more when we forbid bad 
men to pervert society by the propagation of opinions which we re- 
gard as false and pernicious. 

I answer that it is assuming very much more. There is the greatest 
difference between presuming an opinion to be true, because, with 
every opportunity for contesting it, it has not been refuted, and as- 
suming its truth for the purpose of not permitting its refutation. Com- 
plete liberty of contradicting and disproving our opinion is the very 
condition which justifies us in assuming its truth for purposes of ac- 
tion; and on no Other terms can a being with human faculties have 
any rational assurance of being right. 

When we consider either the history of opinion or the ordinary con- 
duct of human life, to what is it to be ascribed that the one and the 
other are no worse than they are? Not certainly to the inherent force 
of the human understanding; for, on any matter not self-evident, 
there are ninety-nine persons totally incapable of judging it for one 
who is capable; and the capacity of the hundredth person is only 
comparative; for the majority of the eminent men of every past gen- 
eration held many opinions now known to be erroneous, and did or 
approved numerous things which no one will now justify. Why is it, 
then, that there is on the whole a preponderance among manl^d of 
rational opinions and rational conduct? If there really is this prepon- 
derance — ^which there must be unless human affairs are, and have al- 
ways been, in an almost desperate state — ^it is owing to a quality of 
the human mind, the source of everything respectable in man either 
as an intellectual or as a moral being, namely, that his errors are cor- 
rigible. He is capable of rectifying his mistakes by discussion and ex- 
perience. Not by experience alone. There must be discussion, to show 
how experience is to be interpreted. Wrong opinions and practices 
gradually yield to fact and argument; but facts and arguments, to 
produce any effect on the mind, must be brought before it. Very few 
facts are able to tell their own story, without comments to bring out 
their meaning. The whole strength and value, thmi, of human judg- 
ment, depending on the one property, that it can be set right when it 
is wrong, reliance can be placed on it only whmi the means of setting 
it right are kept constantly at hand. In the case of any person whose 
judgment is really deserving of confideime, how has it become so? 
Because he has k^t his mind open to criticism of his opinions and 


John Stuart Mill 

conduct Because it has been his practice to listen to all that could be 
said against him; to profit by as much of it as was just, and expound 
to himself, and upon occasion to others, the fallacy of what was falla- 
cious. Because he has felt that the only way in which a human being 
can make some approac